“Master & Students” Performance #3:
Kodály / Mozart / Dvořák / Mendelssohn
Festival Academy Budapest 2018, Day 5
Budapest, Franz Liszt Music Academy — 2018-07-27
One of the features of the Festival Academy is the opportunity for students to participate in chamber music master classes with artists performing at the festival. These master classes may be public, if the students agree. On top of that, the works played in the master classes are then also performed in “Master and Students” concerts. During my stay in Budapest, I attended three (out of 5) such “Master and Students” concerts. The third of these Master and Students” concerts is described in this post. This particular performance featured five groups of artists and students. As all concerts, this one took place in the academy’s Solti Hall, the smaller of the two main concert halls.
Also the Open Master Classes happened in the same building, but in smaller rooms, up to the cupola room in the top floor, under the roof. I attended three of these master / student sessions. I took pictures, giving an idea of the atmosphere in these classes, but I don’t comment on these sessions, as these just have the character of (public) rehearsals. Instead, I’m just including a selection of pictures in the context of the respective “Master and Students” concert performance.
All pictures below are © Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved.
About This Concert
Within the 2018 Festival Academy, this was the third one out of five “Masters and Students” recitals. The program was as follows, with the relevant master artists:
- Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, op.7 (Jan-Erik Gustafsson)
- Mozart: Oboe Quartet in F major, K.370/368b (Philippe Tondre)
- Dvořák: String Quintet No.2 in G major, op.77, B.49 (Zsolt Fejérvári)
- Mendelssohn: String Octet in E♭ major, op.20 (Yuri Zhislin)
- Dvořák: Piano Quintet No.2 in A major, op.81, B.155 (Natalia Lomeiko)
Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, op.7
Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967): his Duo for Violin & Cello, op.7, which Kodály finished in 1914. This comes with three movements:
- Allegro serioso, non troppo
- Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento
This composition was also performed in a regular concert at last year’s Festival Academy, on 2017-06-13. Here, only the first movement was performed.
- Alexandra Arba, violin
- Jan-Erik Gustafsson (*1970), cello
It takes a fair amount of backbone for a violin student to play with, “withstand” a cellist such as Jan-Erik Gustafsson and his instrument’s beautiful, generous, full tone. On the other hand, of course, the cello provides a solid, infallible foundation for the role of the violin. Kodály lets the cello begin with a f fanfare, a grandiose gesture, establishing the tone, the pace, the spirit of the music. Also, Gustafsson was visibly supporting the student, often carrying the performance, not just with his playing, but also through motivating, encouraging, comforting eye contact and mimics. However, he did not just overwhelm the violinist, but also have her opportunities to articulate herself—as much as Kodály’s composition permits.
I found the violinist to exhibit good sonority—and her sound & volume did not need to hide behind that of the cello. Her playing showed firmness in tone, rhythm, and articulation. Technically, she mastered the demanding violin part really well and for the most part was able to keep the tension throughout the movement. The one aspect that still need some work seemed to be the intonation. However, it would miss the character of the composition if critical notes were approached too cautiously. Even though it comes with plenty of pensive moments with subtle playing, the overall character of the piece is outgoing and full of expression.
The Oboe Quartet in F major, K.370/368b by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) is a composition from 1781. Mozart wrote it into the hands, the fingers of a famous oboe virtuoso in Munich, Friedrich Ramm (1744 – 1813). It’s a work that explores / exploits the latest possibilities on the oboe at that time, including several instances of F”’, a note rarely ever used prior to this quartet. There are three movements:
- Rondeau: Allegro
- Philippe Tondre (*1989, France, see also Wikipedia), oboe
- Edina Pinkert, violin
- Cheng-Hung Tsai, viola
- Dorottya Asztalos, cello
The pre-performance for this piece took place in an Open Master Class on the previous day (2018-07-26), in the spacious cupola room, under the roof of the Franz Liszt Academy. Philippe Tondre not only rehearsed with the ensemble, working on coordination, articulation, etc., but he also gave useful information about the piece to the listeners, an audience of 12 – 15. This way, the 45 minutes rehearsal time not only proved useful for the students, but they were equally interesting and informative to the listeners. Philippe Tondre is an excellent presenter & instructor. And, of course, we were all enjoying the music, the performance!
As indicated above, Mozart wrote this oboe quartet for one of the best and most famous oboists of his time: the technical requirements for the lead instrument are horrendous. Needless to say that Philippe Tondre is a top-class oboist—the piece does not seriously challenge his technical abilities. On the other hand, in Mozart’s writing, the oboe part is very dominating (both from the sheer volume, but also because that part rarely pauses for more than a few bars). With this the other voices have a hard time showing some profile.
Among the string instruments, the violin had the most opportunity occasionally to take the lead, and I liked what we heard, even though of course, this was not the solo part in a violin concerto: it was far more important that she cooperated with the oboe, occasionally gave cueues to her colleagues. It’s the viola and the cello which hardly get a chance tp “speak up”. Neither of the two gave rise to objections, i.e., they seamlessly fit into the ensemble. I only wish the cellist had dared to raise her voice a bit more: even if her instrument was not a Goffriller, her playing could have had additional volume (giving some extra foundation to the music), could have been a tad more conspicuous, shown more individual character.
Thanks for repeating the exposition!
Here again of course, the oboe dominates, not only when it moves into the highest possible notes, bit primarily with its melancholic, flourishing melodies, the rich ornamentation. I can’t blame the oboist for dominating the movement—that’s Mozart’s composition. But thanks for the subtle playing anyway!
That said: chamber music education cannot focus on exposing personal profile and character only, but it must equally teach students how to fit into and work together with an ensemble—it’s the overall result which counts!
III. Rondeau: Allegro
The last movement is more favorable for the string voices. For one, they often play in homophonic textures, which gives them more weight against the oboe. Then, the violin often alternates with the oboe in playing the melody. In both cases, the violinist showed good leadership.
Then, there is the challenging last part, starting with the couplet at bar 95ff, where the string instruments must hold a 6/8 rhythm, while the oboe switches to alla breve (2/2, split time), playing a highly virtuosic semiquaver run in even measures. Congrats to everybody: all done well!
The String Quintet No.2 in G major, op.77, B.49 by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) is a composition from 1875. The quintet is written for string quartet and double bass. It features four movements:
- Allegro con fuoco — Più mosso
- Scherzo. Allegro vivace — Trio: L’istesso tempo, quasi Allegretto
- Poco andante — L’istesso tempo
- Finale: Allegro assai
The third movement, Poco andante, was played in the Matinee Concert “Young Talents’ Recital #3” of last year’s Festival Academy, on 2017-06-12. This time, the first and the third movement were performed.
- Hahnsol Kim, violin
- Yuko Matsumoto, violin
- Norbert Rácz, viola
- Boglárka Forgó, cello
- Zsolt Fejérvári, double bass
This was the ideal configuration for students to show their abilities as chamber musicians! For the most part, Zsolt Fejérvári just laying the harmonic foundation, occasionally, rarely only, his part is doubling up / reinforcing the cello voice, seldom the double bass line is colla parte with cello and viola. Albeit a tall person playing a large instrument (and the only one standing!), he remained largely inconspicuous. He just kept an eye on the students, never actively taking the lead role, certainly never covering any of the other voices.
I. Allegro con fuoco — Più mosso
Dvořák’s music is clearly more demanding, more challenging on the musicians than either of the above compositions—both technically, as well as musically. The performance of the four students was certainly not perfect, but nevertheless a very respectable achievement. The first violinist was clearly leading the ensemble, but also the cellist was willing and able to take the lead, where required (this is of course also how Dvořák wrote the movement).
The students appeared self-confident, managed to keep the tempo, not to drop the tension. The technical challenges in this movement are not insurmountable—but it obviously is very demanding to play and present this music like from one single mind and spirit. This requires substantial experience as an ensemble, which these students can’t possibly have yet.
The exposition was not repeated—presumably in order to keep the time limit.
III. Poco andante — L’istesso tempo
Here, the first violin sounded maybe a little hard: the score already lifts that instrument above all others (from the pitch alone), so lacking flexibility in the tone becomes apparent immediately. Occasionally, I wished for additional expression (not necessarily more vibrato!), perhaps a slightly more mellow articulation. The vibrato seemed OK in general, but the few portamenti (rather: glissandi) stood out far too much. On the other hand, the first violin did sing intensely, there was a nice climax, and the ensemble managed to avoid losing the tension in this musically demanding movement. One extra quibble: there were occasional intonation issues in the first violin—but that voice is so exposed…
Mendelssohn: String Octet in E♭ major, op.20
At age of 16 (1825), Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) wrote his famous String Octet in E♭ major, op.20 (1825). It’s the work of a genius, and it’s for good reason that this composition has become and remained one of Mendelssohn’s most popular works. In this composition, Mendelssohn exhibits his very typical, personal idiom: enthralling, with verve and momentum, dominated by motoric movement. Mendelssohn explicitly wanted the work to be played “in orchestral style” (rather than as a piece for eight individual players), with strong dynamic contrasts. The Octet features four movements:
- Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (4/4)
- Andante (6/8)
- Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (2/4)
- Presto (2/2)
Prior to this Festival Academy, I have only heard Mendelssohn’s String Octet in concert once, in Zurich, on 2016-09-27.
This performance featured the first two movements only. The last two movements were programmed for the fourth of the “Master and Students” performances on the following day.
- Mu-Di Wu, violin
- Edina Pinkert, violin
- Yoerae Kim, violin
- Jaga Klimaszewska, violin
- Yuri Zhislin (*1974 in Moscow), viola
- Norbert Rácz, viola
- Nina Cromm, cello
- Domonkos Hartmann, cello
Also this was a configuration that gave everybody (almost) equal chances to show profile (the music permitting, of course!): with Yuri Zhislin playing in the middle, inconspicuously at the first viola voice (i.e., as an equal contributor, not taking the lead), everybody could share the experience and their adequate contribution. Well…
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
I did occasionally wish for slightly more “grip”, more leading, especially in the first violin. Were they perhaps hoping for Yuri Zhislin to lead? The intonation was not always quite flawless, but overall, the students showed a good ensemble performance. The movement is a musical masterpiece, the stroke of a young genius. However, as enthralling as the music is, it is not without challenges. It’s not just in the intonation, but equally in the need to keep the suspense, the drive across the movement. Here, I noted an occasional loss in tension, especially in p/pp segments. Luckily, the motoric segments, that inevitably followed (especially when syncopated), built it up again.
Also here, within a phrase, there was a tendency to drop some of the tension after a climax—and that is the main challenge in this movement (not just here!). I found that the ensemble had grown together, found a common voice in this movement, even though occasionally, not just the intonation, but also the coordination lacked the ultimate precision. Yuri Zhislin was providing support mainly through encouraging mimics and through eye contact (most notably to the other viola player). Was it just because I was watching Yuri Zhislin’s role in this performance, or did the two violas really stand out in the beauty and the quality of their tone?
A really tough movement—maybe the most challenging one in the entire octet: one must definitely not underestimate this music!
Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) wrote his Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, op.81, B.155, in 1887; the composition premiered in 1888. There are four movements:
- Allegro, ma non tanto
- Dumka: Andante con moto
- Scherzo (Furiant): molto vivace
- Finale: Allegro
Only the first movement was performed in this concert.
- Natalia Lomeiko (*1979 in Novosibirsk), violin
- Jiska Lambrecht, violin
- Norbert Rácz, viola
- Andreas Schmalhofer, cello
- Marco Sanna, piano
Also here, I attended an Open Master Class, a pre-performance, on 2018-07-26. As the one with Philippe Tondre, i.e., the Mozart oboe quartet, that Class took place in the cupola room. In comparing with the two other Master Classes that I attended, I would characterize the pre-performance as “the most rehearsal, the least of a presentation for the audience (of 15 – 20)”. In other words: I could see and follow how Natalia Lomeiko steered at and worked on critical points in the composition: details were repeated, checked, corrected—but to me as a listener, it was not always obvious what exactly she was aiming at, what she was correcting, etc.—though the students obviously understood.
Unlike the other two teachers / masters, Natalia Lomeiko did not address the audience, trying to give explanations or further information. However, I guess that this is not a strict requirement in such classes. And the teacher didn’t have a need to “sell or promote herself”. Still, I enjoyed the other two master class teachers’ volunteering such explanations & addressing the audience!
About the ensemble playing: clearly and inevitably, the lead role was with the first violin, with Natalia Lomeiko. That also concerns the sound, the balance: among the string instruments, Dvořák’s score exposes and favors the first violin. The pianist was keeping close contact with the group. However, he didn’t take an active lead role. One weakness here was that in soft segments, when he had a lyrical solo, the cellist tended to lose tempo and drive, the tension dropped off. Sure, the next busy / forte section, or when Natalia Lomeiko re-entered the scene, this was instantly corrected. But if left some feeling of discontinuity. This affected especially the cello solo at the beginning of the exposition—also in the repeat instance.
There was no doubt about the pianist’s prowess—I just wonder whether in the composer’s mind, he should be the active lead role? As far as the score permitted, also the middle string voices participated actively. Also, I noted how well the two violins harmonized, played with good mutual understanding. And the last, final climax was impressive, so enthralling, so full of drive that also the cello was not in danger of losing drive / tension in his last solo. Thanks for the beautiful music!