JWR Articles: Live Event - Soloists from the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Featured performer: Hélène Grimaud) - August 23, 2010

Soloists from the Lucerne Festival Orchestra

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Small works; large hall

How encouraging it is to see nearly 1,900 music lovers come to Sunday “service” for two hours of small-ensemble repertoire where the most performers at any one time was three.

Of course, the sense of intimacy that even Lukaskirche has—much less the exceedingly rare opportunity of hearing marvellous repertoire performed in the home—is lost in such a spacious setting.

Acoustically, the only drawback was the inability of the cello (Jens Peter Maintz, through no fault of his own) to truly balance and blend with his upper-register/keyboard colleagues: from him, more sound production could be seen than heard.

Due to artistic/health concerns, the originally scheduled work (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, arranged for piano, violin, cello and percussion) was replaced by three first-half sonatas.

In the Poulenc, flautist Jacques Zoon gave an impressive master class on breath control (the final note of the second movement redefined diminuendo al niente and will linger in memory for years), tone production (ah, the glories of the modern wooden flute) and technique (his catch-me-if-you-can tempo of the “Presto giocoso” was very largely snared by pianist Hélène Grimaud; the “giocoso” was visually reinforced by Zoon’s precocious hand toss following the release of the single, shrill soundposts that pepper the movement with zest).

Grimaud and Raphael Christ had a wonderful meeting of the minds in Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. At its core was “Blues” where the violinist’s swing, bends and pizzicati were expertly backstopped by the pianist’s unfailing sense of rhythm and style at every turn. The opening “Allegretto” once it got into its skin, was collectively crafted with the long view leading the flow, lovingly executed as a complete thought based on such an innocent-appearing theme.

With bits of pre-dated Gershwin (An American in Paris) and snippets of Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) flashing through the score, “Perpetuum mobile” (brilliantly ignited) more than lived up to its unstoppable billing and was energetically played, belying the tremendous finger dexterity required and certainly justifying the tumultuous applause that greeted its last sizzling measure.

More usually heard on clarinet (and with good reason as the necessary re-voicing of some of the lines—notably the transition to the opening movement’s second subject—pale in comparison), violist Wolfram Christ gave a sunny account of Brahms’ three-movement sonata. The “Allegro amabile,” with a somewhat introspective point of view, fared best. The ensuing “Allegro appassionato” needed a touch more steadiness from both players to achieve its compelling inevitability and meditative contrast in the trio.

The closing set of variations seemed to dawdle in the declamation of the theme before moving forward through the marvels of invention and a somewhat frantic conclusion.

Last heard in Niagara-on-the-Lake a few weeks back in a performance—curiously coincidental—by the Swiss Piano Trio (cross reference below), Schumann’s emotionally laden D Minor Piano Trio saw Grimaud joined by violinist Lorenza Borrani and cellist Maintz.

The opening movement had engaging passion, commitment and depth. The bows-to-the-bridge section of the development was eerily effective. “Nicht zu rasch” is the key direction in the “Scherzo” which was one metronome notch too fast to ever completely settle down. The slow movement was a gem. Beginning with Borrani’s lovingly rendered theme, her colleagues followed in kind, drawing beautifully shaped legato lines as they passed the motives around.

The transition to the “Finale” was pin-dropping perfect: hope finally abounded after all of the preceding angst. While at times threatening to leave the rails as their fire burned ever brighter, the trio arrived safely at the final stop much to the obvious delight of the thoroughly invigorated patrons. JWR

Between Performances

During the festival’s 38-day run, a wide variety of non-musical activities was sampled both in Lucerne and other parts of Switzerland. Because of the excellent local and inter-city transportation system, there’s plenty to see and do within a day’s reach and still be back in time for the next performance—Cultural Tourism at its best!

If it's a close-by, spectacular view of the city you're after, then click here to learn more about the current plans for Château Gütsch Hotel. The 1860 landmark is getting a facelift after a remarkable past. JWR

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Featured performer - Hélène Grimaud
Flute - Jacques Zoon
Viola - Wolfram Christ
Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 164 - Francis Poulenc
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major - Maurice Ravel
Sonata for Viola and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 120, No.2 - Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63 - Robert Schumann
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