, November 2009
Some good festival performances, but you may be distracted by the direction
Festival performances have a more extreme tendency than subscription concerts either to go for broke in a sympathetic environment or to play safe under the constraints of attenuated rehearsal time. Without wishing to pigeonhole, I experienced some of both in this selection from three days of the week-long festival. Michael Barenboim projects two of Carter’s solo violin Lauds with spirit but he both looks and sounds nervous: he doesn’t persuade me that the “Rhapsodic Musings” of No 3 are “very romantic” (according to the composer) as Rolf Schulte does on Bridge, not least by taking it considerably faster.
The stage presence of the festival’s founder, Elena Bashkirova, brings an appreciable rise in expressive temperature and yet also a more carefree spirit. I liked the Hindemith Quartet very much, and the modest yet sure example she sets to her colleagues of how to be listening now and yet thinking several bars ahead. Better still is when Gary Hoffmann lights the blue touchpaper underneath Schumann’s Piano Quintet with rough-breathed articulacy: everyone responds in kind, especially Bashkirova with her exuberant runs in the Scherzo.
Andy Sommer’s cameras show us plenty of the ornate hall of the Jerusalem YMCA and allow us to sense and remotely join the relationship between performers and audience deepening during the course of a work—especially in slow movements—with a directness that the formal visual obstacles presented by orchestral music often obscure. His aim, I think, is to create a visual analogue to such intimate musical interplay. What it means in practice is that no shot lasts longer than about five seconds, as our attention flips from subject on the piano to answering phrase on the violin and thence to an interesting harmony in the bass.
It’s all done with careful attention to the score, but the disposition of the cameras behind the musicians means that the angles are sometimes rather perverse, for all that we have so many of them. I can’t feel that the alternately chatty and combative rhetoric of Carter’s Esprits rude/deux is enhanced when we are so infrequently able to see both players together, except at distance or from a point where one is out of focus. Eshed and Steffens certainly bring it to life with enormous character, but we are too often in their faces. Others will find this less wearying and more enlightening of the inner life of both music and performances than I did.