Saturday 2 May 2020

Welcome to Day Two of the Leamington Music Virtual Festival!

Each day for the duration of the Festival, we will give you an e-flavour of what you could have enjoyed in person this weekend in the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington – sometimes movements and sometimes whole works; some modern performances and some classics.

While we don’t have the technology to beam each of the programmed artists playing live into your living room, we hope you will enjoy these videos of live performances of some the music you were to hear in our Festival.

Saturday’s lunchtime concert was to be given by CBSO Czech flautist Veronika Klírová with pianist Ben Dawson to add our traditional Czech flavour to the Festival.

Their concert was to feature the Czech Republic’s famous sons and a composer whose work is new to the our audience – Martin Červenka – who dedicated his Obrazy Suite to Veronika which would have received its Leamington première today (and probably its UK première too!).

The programme for this concert was to be:

Schulhoff   Flute Sonata
Martin Červenka   Suite for Flute and Piano ‘Obrazy’
Martinů   Flute Sonata No 1 H306
Hummel   Flute Sonata in A Op 64

Here we hear Scottish flautist Lorna McGhee, currently Principal Flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, with pianist Aleksander Szram playing Schulhoff‘s beautiful Flute Sonata.

Schulhoff   Flute Sonata   
i. Allegro Moderato
ii. Scherzo: Allegro giocoso
iii. Aria: Andante
iv. Rondo-Finale: Allegro molto gajo

Erwin Schulhoff was one of that great generation of 20th-century Central European composers whose careers and lives were tragically ended by the senseless policies and violence of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Born in Prague, he studied at the Conservatoire there (at Dvořák’s behest), as well as those of Vienna, Leipzig, and Cologne; his teachers included Debussy and Max Reger. After World War I, those influences joined with even more progressive ones – particularly the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg and the rhythms, contours, and energy of American jazz – to form in Schulhoff a thoroughly distinctive voice. And, for a good part of the twenty years between Versailles and the invasion of Poland, he was acclaimed as one of the day’s great composers and performers (he was an accomplished pianist, as well).

Schulhoff’s Sonata for Flute and Piano dates from the middle of that era. He wrote it for his friend, the flautist René le Roy, with whom he premièred the piece in Paris in April 1927. Evidently, Schulhoff was somewhat dismissive of the score, describing it to an editor of his publisher, Universal Edition, as “printed kitsch, but skilfully made.” Contemporary critics seem to have agreed with that assessment, though many also took pains to note its overall ingratiating character.

The Sonata’s four movements pass by in a flash. The first, something of a trope on the traditional sonata-allegro form, marries Impressionistic and jazz influences. For the second, Schulhoff wrote a blistering Scherzo whose driving energy leads to a surprising coda. The third is a haunting Aria featuring a searching flute melody accompanied by the piano’s steady harmonic progressions. A highly involved and contrapuntal Rondo then closes this most genial of flute sonatas.

The evening’s concert was to be a recital from Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin. Brought to Leamington for last year’s Festival by his champion, Tasmin Little, he thrilled our audiences in two concerts and we were delighted to be welcoming him back this year.

Here is a short video of Andrey playing Beethoven’s Fantasia in G minor Op 77

Visit Andrey’s website for more

Click here to visit the Presto Classical page on Andrey Gugnin which features details of his recordings. Andrey’s new CD, Homage to Godowsky, has just been released to rave reviews.

The first half of the concert was to be Beethoven’s huge ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. How could a Largely Ludwig Festival not feature this Titan??

Our Virtual Festival therefore features another Titan at the keyboard – Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Beethoven   Piano Sonata in B flat Op 106 ‘Hammerklavier’                     
i. Allegro
ii. Scherzo: Assai Vivace
iii. Adagio sostenuto: Appassionato e con molto sentimento
iv. Largo – Allegro risoluto

It is, after all, just the German word for piano. And several of Beethoven’s sonatas had it on their title page. But the word ‘Hammerklavier’, ringing as it does with vehemence and power, could only attach itself to one sonata permanently, the Sonata in B flat Op 106.

And it is not hyperbole to call this sonata gargantuan. In its emotional range, its technical difficulty, its sheer length, it exceeded any predecessor. Beethoven’s Viennese publishers announced the new sonata in 1819 as a work that “excels above all other creations of this master not only through its most rich and grand fantasy but also in regard to artistic perfection and sustained style, and will mark a new period in Beethoven’s pianoforte works.”

Thrilling for the audience and treacherous for the pianist, a sudden leap of the left hand and a fanfare of fortissimo chords seem to grab and shake the piano into life. Immediately, this forceful entry is countered by calm, establishing the oratorical pattern of declaration and subsequent assessment, tension and relaxation, which pervades the first movement.

As an antidote to the constant striving that precedes it, the second movement Scherzo defuses the mood with humour and brevity; a transition to the unprecedented mournfulness of the immense Adagio third movement. We are accustomed in the music of Beethoven to a narrative that runs from crisis to resolution. Because of this, the stasis of the Adagio is surprising and obliterating. Any glimmer of hope is immediately extinguished.

The final movement enters secretively, tentatively; ethereal scale passages contend with aggressive responses. Then, following gradually more optimistic trills, like a door suddenly thrown open, the great fugue of the fourth movement commences. Unrestrained, outrageous, and ecstatic, the movement is not strictly a fugue. Beethoven explained that “making a fugue is no art… But fantasy also claims its right….” In the score we find the instruction “Fuga a tre voci con alcune licenze” (fugue in three voices, with some license). Some license indeed! Outbursts and eructations on an Olympian scale.

After the interval, Andrey was to play Pictures at an Exhibition – his astonishing performance of which brought a lunchtime audience to its feet at last year’s Festival.

Here, Evgeny Kissin perfoms Mussorgsky’s mighty work for us.

Mussorgsky    Pictures at an Exhibition
Promenade I
Promenade II
The Old Castle
Promenade III
Promenade IV
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle
Promenade V
The Market Place at Limoges
The Hut on Hen’s Legs of the Baba-Yaga
The Great Gate of Kiev

As a tribute to his friend, the artist Victor Hartmann who died suddenly in 1873, Mussorgsky composed this astonishingly graphic suite.

Pictures at an Exhibition is Mussorgsky’s musical description of eleven of Hartmann’s works, depicting the composer roving through a great exhibition, sometimes leisurely, sometimes briskly in order to come closer to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend.

Promenade I – takes the composer into the gallery and later accompanies him as he walks around the room, reflecting a change in mood from one picture to another. Despite his limp and ample girth, Mussorgsky was a brisk walker – the tempo is marked allegro, rather than andante.

Gnomus – Mussorgsky’s glowering interpretation of this curious sketch for a toy nutcracker shaped like “a little gnome walking awkwardly on deformed legs”.

Promenade II

The Old Castle – Hartmann’s painting focuses on a troubadour singing before the castle; the soulful lyric gradually becomes disfigured by strangely dissonant surges.

Promenade III

Tuileries – this fanciful little scherzo echoes the squabbling of wobbly infants at play. The trio is meant to suggest gossiping nannies, amongst which the children dart mischievously.

Bydło – the composer admires Hartmann’s illustration of a Polish ox-cart lumbering past in an earth-shaking climax before receding into the distances of the mind’s eye.

Promenade IV

Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks – this is from sketches for the decor of the ballet Trilbi. With darting movements, quick chirps, deft trills and pattering staccatos, the little chicks pirouette, peck and dance their way through the movement, until with a final squawk and a quick bow they disappear offstage.

Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle – these are two pencil drawings: A Rich Jew Wearing a Fur Hat and A Poor Jew: Sandomierz. The sumptuous tonality of Samuel Goldenberg, with its “Jewish” augmented seconds gives way to the wheedling of Schmuyle. The two themes play in counterpoint but Goldenberg has the last word.

Promenade V

The Market Place at Limoges – at the heart of the exhibition, pictures come thick and fast. The gossiping women of the bustling market place gabble furiously in music of astonishing virtuosity.

Catacombs – Hartmann pictured himself within a fearsome vision of the subterranean passages of Paris where the dead are buried in an underground array, with the bones of thousands of Parisians stacked and piled in tunnels.

The Hut on Hen’s Legs of the Baba-Yaga – the composer is rocked by another grotesque, a drawing of an elaborately carved clock representing Baba Yaga, the legendary tiny witch who feasts on human bones. Mussorgsky’s imagination runs amok, releasing her to soar, screeching, through storm clouds.

The Great Gate of Kiev – finally, sketches Hartmann made for a projected (but never realised) monumental gate with a cupola shaped like a Slavonic helmet. Mussorgsky’s music suggests something greater than Hartmann’s modest design. The themes, redolent of Russian Orthodox chants, eventually combine with the promenade. It’s almost as if this picture had evoked a reassuring vision of passing with his friend through the great gate of paradise itself – a catharsis on the very grandest scale.

Join us here tomorrow’s ‘concerts’ in our Virtual Festival!


Can you help…?

We are raising money to help see our artists and our organisation through the Covid-19 crisis. Every pound that is donated will make a difference to the way we can support these musicians now and with our plans for the future, and we are extraordinarily grateful to everyone for their understanding and support in such challenging times.

Leamington Music is a not-for-profit charity which relies on your much-valued support to keep bringing international music-making to the area. When this crisis subsides, we are all going to want music more than ever to lift the spirits, and so we at Leamington Music would be very grateful for your help to keep the charity, along with our artists, buoyant in the meantime.