January 9, 2012

JEAN-GUIHEN QUEYRAS


Years ago my then girlfriend and I had dinner at a once popular Los Angeles restaurant in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.  A few tables from where we were sitting I saw a muscled pygmy whose face looked annoyingly familiar, but whose name I could not recall.  A little later I almost choked on my lobster ravioli because I suddenly realized that the pygmy was a very famous action movie star.  Seen from a few feet away, however, this silver screen superman projected all the menacing authority of a bipedal hamster on a high protein diet.   After that sighting I never could watch the guy's movies again without laughing...

A few months after that restaurant encounter, I had a similar experience when I went to hear the English Concert under Trevor Pinnock playing at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.  What I heard from my seat just a few rows from the stage was not the towering, muscled, athletic, edgy sonic presence of the period instrument band I knew from numerous Arkhiv Produktion CDs.  Instead I heard a few thin-textured, bass-shy tuttis separated by long stretches of nearly inaudible, barely pitched buzzing.  After that I never could listen to a period instruments ensemble again without laughing.  Which is exactly what I did at another concert where the heavily perspiring soloist, Monica Huggett, tried to scrape her way through the ascending melodic line with which the violin makes its entrance in the Beethoven concerto.  I had to leave the concert hall in disgrace, with third degree burns left on my back by the fiery stares of numerous HIP devotees in the audience.

I mentioned the above autobiographical trivia because that's what I had on my mind recently while I was listening to the beefy, muscular, lithe textures of the period instrument ensemble (Akademie für alte Musik Berlin) accompanying Jean-Guihen Queyras's superlative readings of Vivaldi's cello concertos (recorded live at the Concertgebouw on October 30, 2011).  I did not believe for a second that this kind of orchestral sound projected much further than the (very closely placed) recording microphones.  Not that it mattered much to me, since the music itself easily gets on my nerves.  I am just not the kind of guy who holds his breath when listening to endlessly repeated  arpeggiated chords, which is what Vivaldi's concertos offer as (or rather in place of) thematic elaboration.   But listen I did, and more than once, because I find Queyras' musical intelligence and instrumental craft simply irresistible no matter what music he plays. 

5 comments:

RonanM said...

How irritating! A combination of an ace cellist and a yakuza composer. Why do they waste their time?

Boom said...

"Yakuza composer"? You lost me here, Ronan. I must be growing dense....

Anonymous said...

'What I heard from my seat a few rows from the stage was not the towering, muscled, athletic, edgy sonic presence of the period instrument band I knew from numerous Arkhiv Produktion CDs. Instead I heard a few thin-textured, bass-shy tuttis separated by long stretches of nearly inaudible, barely pitched buzz'...

Boom, Have you ever been to a 'period-instrument' concert in a true 'period' concert hall? North-American concert halls are a complete disaster for period instruments, of course, they were designed to house large orchestras in the age of 'boom boom' amplification (no pun intended).

It's so strange how 'hi-fi' types make such a big deal of fancy high-end stereo equipment, but never seem to be aware that the concert hall is part of the instrumentarium of a concert... Yes, I have heard period instruments in North-American concert halls and I agree that you can't hear them. But I was very lucky to hear Reinhard Goebel and his MAK in Salzburg's Mozarteum and they filled the (relatively large) hall completely with gorgeous sound (even heard from a cheap seat behing a post!), as also did John Holloway playing Biber on a baroque violin. Those halls were built precisely for such instruments and they work with them beautifully.

Jan(e) Dismas

Boom said...

Jan(e),

I heard Bylsma, Bruggen, and Leonhardt playing a joint recital at the same auditorium(!) within a year of the Pinnock's concert. I was closer to the stage (row 3, I believe), but not THAT much closer. And this trio projected so well that I have no issues with their "period" playing at all. In fact I just went along for what (in retrospect) must have been a hell of a musical ride. I still remember (after all those years) a long virtuoso cadenza played by Bylsma (don't remember the piece), which made an overpowering impression.
I know it sounds crazy, but this trio produced more powerful, more "penetrating" sound than the entire English Concert.

Needless to say, I did not laugh during that concert...

billinrio said...

Anonymous has a point. More than a point, he has touched on one of my pet peeves: all too often, music is performed in venues that are far to large. Last October, I attended a performance by this very group in the Casa de Música in Porto. The building, designed by Dutch architect Rern Koolhaas, is spectacular (see: http://www.casadamusica.com/CDMHouse/default.aspx?channelID=8E905E1B-E325-4640-AA93-23081C1B7FF6&id=74FA3DE2-1D4F-4F90-97B6-745DBEE35CC5&l=8E905E1B-E325-4640-AA93-23081C1B7FF6)
But the main hall in which the performance took place has 1,300 seats. There's another concert space there, for about 600, but that wasn't used, and the reason can only be financial.
I was underwhelmed by the group's performance, but that could very possibly be because I couldn't hear them.