26 November 2016

Raimo Kangro - Clicking Symphony

As it has been a while since I did a little look at a singular piece and considering the world around us currently I couldn't think of anything better than to look at Raimo Kangro. As the world around us is becoming an incredibly scary place what with Herr Trump and Britain playing Russian Roulette we all kind of need something just to give us a brief moment of respite. 

Raimo Kangro, born in 1949, is one of the most significant voices of the Estonian neo-classical trends which had manifested in country during the Soviet years. Kangro's music is fascinating to observe because of its wit and charm. A student of Eino Tamberg and Jaan Raats, Kangro's music seems to thrive on an overt simplicity and stability of harmonic language which in turn is used as a platform for everything else to spring from it. Within Kangro's large body of works are a huge collection of concerti, symphonies, and piano works. I have previously discussed one of his concerti for two pianos which not only exploits the full potential of dialogue between the forces but also explores a full spectra of extended techniques to build quite a magnificent work. 

The neo-classical elements within Raimo Kangro's work stuck with him throughout his working life. Another curious element of his works are his hommages. He produced a curious cycle of twelve portraits all of which celebrate composers he admires from Mozart and Vivaldi to Reich and Schubert. This connection to history never makes his music feel conservative or backwards, and dare I say; may even put him in a better light than other prominent neo-classicists like certain members of Les Six or even Stravinsky (whose neo-classical works do make we want to cry sometimes, as they never quite match the wonder of earlier works and just make Stravinsky look like a bit of a charlatan).

Anyways back to the Clicking Symphony (Ploksuv sumfoonia) (1993). The four movement symphony, written for an army of mandolins (the composer does specify mandolin orchestra, but I do feel a large gather of mandolins can only really be described as an army or armada) has all the 'typical' architecture of a symphony, with a lively vivo for the first movement, a contrasting con moto and sostenuto for the middle movements, and a brief vivo to conclude. The four movement are more akin to Haydn in character, as they only last about approximately four minutes each, and the finale is a blink of just a minute, so there is no Wagnerian or Mahlerian self indulgence in this symphony.

The first movement starts with a brisk articulated driving momentum. The first subject is energetic and the discourse between all the forces extremely conversational. The pulsing accompaniment and strong force in the lower elements of the orchestra give the music its unique twang (pardon the pun). What is fascinating to observe in the symphony is the fact this symphony functions identically to say a symphony written purely for string orchestra, there is no hint at trying to adapt the musical dynamic to the forces. The other fascinating element is due to the brevity of the first movement you can just sit make and marvel at the wondrous craft of the architecture.

The second movement, has an air of scherzo about it, it is playful and spritely. It is a smidgen steadier but this doesn't deaden the jollity of the work. The use of pulsing cycles and irregular rhythms makes the work a joy to listen to, and is like some of the more overtly playful works of Bartok.

The third movement is rather serene and stands as the largest movement of the symphony. The rolling harmonies and sustained sound of a double bass give the perfect backdrop to a moving melody. The melody steadily grows and the anticipation and excitement grows with it. The beauty and serenity of the melody never feels sentimental as the inner dialogue is still bustling with energy and there is still a spring in the step of the orchestra throughout. It is hard to say which movement is my favourite, but it is definitely a contest between this and the opening.

The finale is brief but fun. Maybe I love the whole symphony because it never takes too long and just says what it needs to. The drive in finale is rather extremely, especially after the calm of the third movement. In the finale we see brief snippets of the opening movement, almost alluding to an overarching sonata form throughout the four movements. A neo-classicists equivalent of Inception, a sonata form within a sonata form.

The whole symphony is just a treat, and I think the perfect tonic to the recent dark days we have been witnessing. The whole symphony has a brief tang of Vivaldi within it, but it is hard to say if it is because of the musicality of the work, or the fact there are mandolins. The whole symphony is on Spotify and is accompanied by a surreal but wonderful mix of works written for mandolin orchestra, definitely worth a listen. Anyways until next time! 

4 November 2016

Quick look back at GAIDA 2016

As GAIDA 2016 is coming to its close, admittedly there are three concerts left, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to reflect over the festival this year and contemplate my highlights and so on. Also for those who are curious, I am doing this now as the final three concerts have no connection to Baltic music, and almost everyone internationally knows Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, so I don't need to fill people in on it.
This year's festival has been wonderfully varied with ensembles from all over Europe being involved, performing music from across the globe. Like every year, there are multiple world premieres from Lithuanian composers and this year there were some real treats indeed. 

For those who read my review of the Quartettissimo concert, know how struck I was by ArtVio's wonderful performing, but also by the premiere by Ramunas Motiekaitis. X Ciklai by Ramunas Motiekaitis, was a truly masterful work, the colourful dectet really demonstrated the breadth of the composer's musical palette. The modest brilliance of the work still strikes me, this long after the premiere, a real joy to behold and I desperately need to get hold of the recording! 

The premiere of Vykintas Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra for me was another great highlight. Admittedly I don't know what I loved more, Baltakas's wonderful music or the wonderful performance of Francesco Dillon. Either way it really was wonderful to watch. 

Juste Janulyte's Harp is a Chord was another surprise. For me the previous excitement was mostly in the curiosity of how Juste would tackle the confusing combination of Harpsichord and Accordion, especially when many of her previous works depend on the similarity in colours. The work was truly glorious, the interaction between the two was inspired. A wonderful piece indeed!

So they were my favourite premieres, but what about concerts? Well for me the many of the concerts were grand, and to be honest some of my favourite concerts I didn't previously review simply due to the lack of Baltic music within the concert. So in no particular order, here are my three favourite concerts. 

I think I should start with Ensemble Synaethesis's debut. The young'uns made their GAIDA premiere, and their premiere in such an international platform. There choice of repertoire was broad and daring, including a premiere by the French Matthias Leboucher, multiple pieces by Michael Gordon, a work by the magical Dane Simon Steen-Anderson, and the majestic Vortex Temporum by Gerard Grisey. I was excited about this concert, mostly because of the performance of Grisey and Leboucher. I was also extremely nervous for the ensemble as it was quite a momentous occasion and I only wanted them to nail it. And damn, did they nail it. They were on the strongest form I have ever witnessed. For such a debut, they gave the perfect performance. They met expectations and smashed most of them, they really showed they are an ensemble on their way onwards and upwards! I was particularly impressed by Synaethesis's pianist, Marta Finkelstein, I say this mostly because Vortex Temporum's piano part is just devilish, and she was just remarkable. The whole ensemble were great, but Marta definitely needs the extra mention. Bravo one and all. As I said in a previous post about them, as long as they continue to broaden their musical horizons, they will be a truly magical ensemble very soon. 

Goska Isphording and Maciej Frackiewicz's duo concert was another joy. As with my curiosity of Juste's piece, I was curious to hear such a peculiar combination in a full concert. Every piece they played, they played with brilliance and panache. Without a doubt one of my favourite concerts. The mix of repertoire combined with wonderful performing was perfect. 

My third highlight of the festival was Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra's opener to the festival. The combination of Kurtag, Baltakas, and Liza Lim was just a magnificent choice indeed. Such a great complimentary combination of repertoire, similar enough they could be paired together, but not so similar it becomes tedious. The orchestra were on pretty solid form, Jonathan Berman was a fine conductor to watch and particularly came to life performing Kurtag's Double Concerto.  A glorious night indeed.

So there we have it GAIDA 2016, bring on next year, and bring on more wonderful concerts this year!