“Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned.”
—George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 3
The final offering of the “Shaw and Music” series was polished, professional and poised. The three musical works and trio of Sharry Flett’s superbly tossed off readings from Shaw’s writings and Schubert’s letters engaged and entertained the capacity house, but the connections were vaguely circumstantial—contrived rather than a natural, logical flow which could take these presentations to another level of excellence and interest.
Serious musicians know that the only way to come to their own understanding of music is through the composer’s ideas (as outlined in the score) or through his or her thoughts as contained in their correspondence. Musicologists, critics and other performers, by necessity, present their point of view; true artists must, likewise, discover their own.
Compelling would be a critic’s opinion, followed by the composer’s private, written-down thoughts and then a performance of the actual music under discussion. To chuckle about “freeze the critic” with a reference to “Death and the Maiden” (String Quartet in D Minor – 1826; cross-reference below) then hear String Trio in B-flat Major (1816) failed to connect the artistic dots, much less challenged the performers to prove or deny the assertions which proceeded. Too much to ask?
The one-movement wonder was delivered with enough warmth to thaw the grouchiest reviewer, yet its earnest performers couldn’t fathom the harmonic subtext—the delicious closing-section line in the cello was pitch perfect but musically undernourished.
The set-up line for the Adagio and Rondo Concertante (“All the world is not a pianoforte”) drew the Bardish laugh but could have been equally as effective pre-“Trout.” More telling might have been a few thoughts about the notion of solo versus ensemble or the passing of the torch to the next generation of practitioners.
“The younger generation is knocking at the door, and as I open it there steps in the incomparable Max.”
—George Bernard Shaw on handing over his theatre review column to Max Beerbohm.
As he did with a movement from the “Kreutzer” Sonata (cross-reference below), Jin-Shan Dai led with authority and, happily, plumbed the drama, which inspired his able colleagues to do likewise. There were a few “rough and ready” excursions towards the final double bar, but all present enjoyed the ride.
The dreary quote from a letter penned in the last week of Schubert’s too-brief life was instantly washed from consciousness with the opening measures of the sunniest piano quintet on the planet. Cautiously assisted by Bob Mills, Atis Bankas cobbled together a reading that excelled in the “stuff” and fun of music making. So persuasive was his leadership that even the wristwatch alarms entered on the downbeat!
The only disappointment came in the “Andante,” where the viola and cello combined to deliver the sumptuous legato line “matter of fact,” leaving its heady mystery and incredibly beautiful change-of-register for another day.
On to 2006! The concept is sound. Here’s to more glue between text and notes.
“Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.”
—George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, “Maxims: Stray Sayings" JWR