“Master & Students” Performance #4:
Tchaikovsky / Mozart / Haydn / Mendelssohn / Schumann

Festival Academy Budapest 2018, Day 6

Logo, Festival Academy Budapest

Budapest, Franz Liszt Music Academy — 2018-07-28


2018-08-10 — Original posting

Introduction

This is the last one of six postings relating to this year’s Festival Academy Budapest, running from 2018-07-23 up till 2018-07-29. For general information on the Festival Academy see my first posting.

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 that are 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 fourth 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.

Open Master Classes

Also the Open Master Classes happened in the same building, though in smaller rooms, such as “Room X”, or 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.


Festival Academy Budapest, 2018: András Bánó, presenter
András Bánó, presenter

About This Concert

Within the 2018 Festival Academy, this was the fourth one out of five “Masters and Students” recitals. The program was as follows, with the relevant master artists:


Tchaikovsky: String Sextet in D minor, op.70, “Souvenir de Florence”

The Composition

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) composed his String Sextet in D minor, op.70, in 1890. The composition premiered two years later. The title “Souvenir de Florence” stands for the fact that the composer had the idea for the first theme while visiting Florence. The sextet (2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos) has four movements:

  1. Allegro con spirito — Più mosso, vivace assai — Prestissimo
  2. Adagio cantabile e con moto — Moderato — Tempo I
  3. Allegretto moderato — L’istesso tempo
  4. Allegro vivace — Più vivace

Only the first movement (Allegro con spirito — Più mosso, vivace assai — Prestissimo) was performed.

The Artists

  • Veronique de Raedemaeker, violin
  • Mu-Di Wu, violin
  • Cheng-Hung Tsai, viola
  • Anna Rovó, viola
  • Natalie Clein (*1977, see also Wikipedia), cello
  • Emma Balázs, cello

The Setting

A look at Tchaikovsky’s score makes it evident: the first violin has a strong lead role, is substantially more virtuosic than the others. On the other hand, the second cello seems somewhat “underemployed”, often providing a “mere” (though not negligible) foundation. In her orange dress, Natalie Clein formed a visual point of attraction among all the dark dresses of the students. She was interacting with all the students through eye contact and encouraging facial expressions (“visual social interaction”), always alert, especially keeping an eye on the second cellist. However, she did not try taking control or taking the lead role in any way. Tchaikovsky’s composition pretty much prevents this in first place.

The Performance

Veronique de Raedemaeker sure knew what she was engaging in with the role of first violinist! She not only mastered her technically demanding part with excellent tone and intonation, with clear articulation, but she also exhibited very good leadership—a concertmaster at small scale! That does not mean that the other students were merely passive: also the second violin and the two violas contributed actively, vividly. Only in the case of the second cello, it takes a while until the composer gives that part a chance to take the lead in a short solo. Very often, Tchaikovsky treats all six voices as equals, taking them through canon-like sequences, where a lead motif is passed from one voice to the next. The exposition was not repeated in this performance.

Tchaikovsky’s music is so expressive and emotionally intense! We experienced a performance full of drive, and which kept the tension also through pp segments, forming impressive dramatic arches. Overall, the ensemble demonstrated amazing musicianship: effective teamwork, bracketed by the first violin (musically) and Natalie Clein (motivation, encouragement). It was a joy to watch and listen to!


Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola in B♭ major, K.424

The Composition

In 1783Johann Michael Haydn, (1737 – 1806), junior brother of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), had a commitment for the delivery of six duos for violin and viola. He composed four of these, but was unable to deliver all six duos. So, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) stepped in, helping with the composition of two duos. One of these is the Duo for Violin and Viola in B♭ major, K.424, which has three movements:

  1. Adagio — Allegro
  2. Andante cantabile
  3. Andante grazioso

Only the first movement (Adagio — Allegro) was performed.

The Artists

The Pre-Performance

This is one of 3 performances where I also was able to attend and follow the associated Open Master Class, on 2018-07-26. It was the first master class that I attended, and the only one in “Room X” of the Liszt Academy. That’s a very small, intimate venue, but still equipped with a small, stage-like podium. The master class happened in front of the podium, though. This was perfectly adequate for the half-dozen people in the audience. I found the master class itself very interesting, not just for the musical / teaching aspects, but because—unexpectedly—Razvan Popovici was not only teaching & rehearsing, but was also addressing the audience to explain the history of the composition (see above).

The Teaching

I don’t want to comment on the playing, as this merely had the character of a rehearsal. I certainly liked the lively, open manner, in which Razvan Popovici interacted with the student. And: it amazed me how his wonderful viola filled that small venue with its warm, full sound (and of course, I liked his playing). I did have some worries whether the sound of the viola was so overwhelming that it was hard for the student to play softly, to differentiate and explore the full scope of the dynamics! But actually, the student’s violin also had quite an impressive sonority, hence could cope with the sound of the viola. Plus, the main focus of the masterclass lesson was on articulation and phrasing, not on dynamics.

I should state that the student—although inconspicuous in her appearance, modest in her behavior—was amazingly assertive in her playing. She didn’t seem to hide behind the teacher’s playing, showed presence, didn’t let the generosity and openness in Razvan Popovici’s playing and character overwhelm her part. One comment is allowed here: Razvan Popovici is an excellent teacher, has very good communication skills: the session a real joy to follow!

The Performance

In the concert, i.e., in the Solti Hall, it was immediately clear that there would not be any balance issues, i.e., my concerns about a possible dominance of the viola sound did not substantiate. Radvan Popovici avoided dominating, giving optimum support to the student. The dynamics were really differentiated throughout the movement.

More importantly: Yuko Matsumoto demonstrated amazing musicality. Her intonation was very good (maybe with the exception of very few missed short tones towards the end), her articulation light and clear. And her tone was firm, full of character, could well persist next to Radvan Popovici’s outstanding instrument and playing. Already in the Adagio introduction I noted her subtle agogics, the articulation careful, diligent. It was also interesting to observe how with the Allegro her articulation turned more characterful, more “gripping”, and in the dolce after the double bar, she instantly switched to a very lyrical tone, naturally taking back the tempo a little bit, just to return to the original character at the subsequent f.

I had just one regret: the violinist did not seize the opportunity for a short cadenza at the obvious spot, the general rest in bar 207 (13 bars prior to the end). On the other hand, I was happy to note that the exposition was repeated: I always feel that this makes sense to the listener in a sonata movement.


Haydn: Divertimento in A major for Flute, Violin, and Bassoon, Hob.IV:10

The Composition

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) wrote several divertimenti for three voices. 11 were published, some for 2 flutes and cello, some (like this one in A major) for flute, violin (or two violins) and cello. The Divertimento in A major for Flute, Violin, and Bassoon, Hob.IV:10 is from 1784 and features three movements:

  1. Andante con espressione
  2. Adagio
  3. Tempo di menuetto

The Artists

  • Lena Seitz, flute
  • Jiska Lambrecht, violin
  • György Lakatos (*1960, Hungary), bassoon

In this performance, György Lakatos obviously played the cello part on the bassoon. This option definitely makes sense if the top voice is performed on a flute.

The Performance

I. Andante con espressione

This movement puts the violin at a disadvantage, as it merely has the role of a filler voice between the bass and the flute. Especially if the former is performed on a bassoon. It really made this a flute sonata. Though, of course, fitting into an ensemble, even if it is in an inconspicuous role, is something that one must learn and master as well. I don’t mean to diminish the violinist’s function here!

To me, the tempo in this movement was too slow. The flautist probably meant to focus on the con espressione aspect, hereby neglecting the Andante part. Her tone was clean and firm. However, I wasn’t entirely happy with the intonation: it seemed that the instrument wasn’t exactly in tune. That’s not unusual with flutes. It may have to do with how the musician hears her own instrument.

II. Adagio

Here, at least, the violin gets two short solo segments (with bassoon accompaniment).

III. Tempo di menuetto

It only was in the Menuetto, the shortest of the movements, where the performance gained life & joy: a lovely movement. Also for the violin, this is the most rewarding movement. Yet, the violin could easily have used more volume, dare to play more prominently: after all, it is not a flute sonata!


Mendelssohn: String Octet in E♭ major, op.20

The Composition

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 compositions. 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 Movements

  1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (4/4)
  2. Andante (6/8)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (2/4)
  4. Presto (2/2)

Prior to this Festival Academy, I have just heard Mendelssohn’s String Octet in concert once so far, in Zurich, on 2016-09-27.

This performance featured the last two movements only. The first two movements were performed in the third of the “Master and Students” performances, on the previous day.

The Artists

  • Natalia Lomeiko (*1979 in Novosibirsk), violin
  • Yejin Roh, violin
  • Péter Karácsonyi, violin
  • Jiska Lambrecht, violin
  • Anna Rovó, viola
  • Zoltán Schwartz, viola
  • Andreas Schmalhofer, cello
  • Emma Balázs, cello

The Performance

III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo

Here now, with Natalia Lomeiko at the first violin, the “Teacher / Master” clearly led the performance. Sound-wise, obviously and inevitably, the first violin took the lead. It’s a movement that challenges speed of reaction and coordination: really difficult! In the ensemble, the performance still could have been better in clarity, and the intonation in the spiccato passages wasn’t always quite clean. One could also guess the challenge from the fact that occasionally, the performance was in danger of losing momentum, tension. I suspect it takes real masters to make this sound like an ensemble performing out of one single musical mind.

IV. Presto

Also this is a challenging masterpiece. Although: compared to the Scherzo, the inherent motorics, the drive, the momentum, and the broader articulation may make it a bit easier to play. The outcome was somewhat affected by the vastly difference in sonority between the two cellos, and the same held true for the two violas. One cannot blame this on the students, of course: that’s one of the potential perils with such student performances, where people gather (with their instruments) from all over the world: one cannot expect their instruments to match.

As a performance, this definitely turned out more successful than the Scherzo, despite occasional intonation issues. Being able to be part of an ensemble performing this movement is an achievement already, but this also demonstrated the difficulties. It takes a real ensemble to live out the strongly emotional climaxes in this music. Here, I felt that more intensity would not have hurt (e.g., through additional broadening at the climax). Still, the final build-up and climax was impressive, and Mendelssohn’s enthralling music was carrying along both musicians and audience, likewise.


Schumann: Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44

The Composition

For me, this year’s “Budapest experience” ended with the pleasure of hearing two highlights of chamber music literature! For one, Mendelssohn’s String Octet,op.20 (see above), and in a second instance, the Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44 by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). The latter work had already been performed by the “masters” at this festival, in the regular concert on 2018-07-25. The four movements of the quintet are

  1. Allegro brillante
  2. In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
  4. Allegro ma non troppo

Only the first movement (Allegro brillante) was performed.

The Artists

  • Kristóf Tóth, violin
  • Eli De Buck, violin
  • Yuri Zhislin (*1974 in Moscow), viola
  • Nina Cromm, cello
  • Marco Sanna, piano

The Performance

The “Masters / Teachers” (among them Yuri Zhislin, now again playing the viola) had performed Schumann’s op.44 two days earlier. This offered an interesting opportunity for comparison—but also a challenging “point of reference”!

The beginning with its poignant, catchy theme was impressive, was played with lots of emphasis and suitable agogics. Of course, it could not quite reach the pithiness, the precision and conciseness of the “benchmark performance” (maybe it lacked the ultimate precision in coordination?). The tone in general was good and right, though.

Challenges

The more challenging part (also later in the movement) came with the more lyrical, second theme: the pianist was careful, diligent with the tempo. However, he could not avoid a sudden, distinct drop in tension. This is not something just to blame on the pianist: also the cellist tended to take back the tempo gradually (rather than just the volume) in lyrical passages. It’s such (minor) failures which indicate how tricky and demanding Schumann’s music is! Luckily, the first theme of course returned, and with it the drive, the momentum (and the tempo).

Yuri Zhislin at the viola offered “emotional backup and support” in the performance, but (in his voice) could not do much to “fix” the lyrical parts. The configuration was entirely from that of the preceding Mendelssohn performance with Zhislin’s wife in the lead role! Here, of course, the students had more of an opportunity to show their individual profile. Ignoring the little flaws just mentioned: the pianist was technically excellent, very virtuosic. The ensemble performance was technically at a high level: within the limited time in this Festival Academy, Yuri Zhislin obviously managed to form a good team!


Conclusions

This concludes my reports from this year’s Festival Academy Budapest. It’s tricky to judge “master performances” and “master / student” ones (almost) side by side. I decided not to apply a “student ruler”, but rather to apply the same, professional criteria to all performances. If this leads to critical remarks in student performances, this is merely meant to put individual performances into a global perspective. I personally have the highest respect for all musicians at this Festival Academy: the level of all performances (individually and overall) was amazing, and my four days in Budapest were almost overwhelming. So, let me end by thanking the organizers, Katalin Kokas and Barnabás Kelemen, for inviting me and offering me the opportunity for such an enriching experience!



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