Friday, 20 September 2013, at the Romanian Atheneum
Sir E. Elgar – Introduction and Allegro for Strings, op. 47
Sir E. Elgar – Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, op. 85
Sir E. Elgar – Enigma Variations, op. 36
Sir Neville Marriner (conductor), Antonio Meneses (cello), Academy of St Martin in the Fields
The music overdose on Friday ended with the concert, at the Atheneum, of the most beautiful orchestra in the world, conducted by its founder, Sir Neville Marriner.
I believe the natural choice of the first steps in discovering music is to listen to the music of your time. You go to the opera or the concert halls and you see those who sing or play today the music of yesterday. You go to the cinema to see the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera or from the Royal Opera House and you see the stars of your era. You listen to the CDs recently released, with the same stars (unfortunately, this is true mostly for a few decades ago). Then, and only then, you start discovering: the philosophers of the baton, the poets of the piano, the gods of the opera: Furtwängler, Toscanini, Menuhin, Lipatti, Callas (always and forever Callas), Chaliapin, Siepi… Maybe as many others from my generation, I discovered Mozart’s music with Neville Marriner and with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields. Mozart’s symphonies (oh! the twenty fifth!), Die Zauberflöte (with Kiri’s Pamina, and Araiza’s Tamino!), but, the most common and at the same time the most normal, with the music of the movie Amadeus, Milos Forman’s extraordinary movie, with all its romanticising, with all its lies (for which we never wanted to find the true parts), which made both Marriner and Mozart famous, forever inserted in the collective consciousness, as our genius, whom we know, whom we think we understand, and, if not, whom we love.
I saw Neville Marriner for the first time in 2005, at Enescu Festival, conducting Pini di Roma, and raising „George Enescu” Philharmonic Orchestra a lot above their usual artistic level of that time. And I saw St Martin around the same moment, when Murray Perahia’s forfeit made room for Christian Zacharias’ legend in Romania, with some unforgettable concerts by Mozart. The conductor was 81 years old in 2005 (he was born in 1924, and he founded his orchestra in 1959). How could one not go and see them again in 2013? Unfortunately, it was just for a night, as I cannot go to the concert with Mendelssohn’s music.
Last night it was Elgar. A British orchestra and a British conductor playing the music of their country, for sure also the music of their academic studies. But before Edward Elgar, because the years had passed and the experience had increased more and more, before the Allegro for Strings and the famous Cello Concerto, there was the sound. Like every time, but, it seemed to me, more than other times, I was struck dumb with amazement in front of the sound of this orchestra, compact, vibrant and profound, at the same time loud, with an unimaginably perfect unison, the most beautiful in the world, and I think the only one missing from my live audio memory is the Berliner Philharmoniker, that I have not heard yet. And then, after this amazing sonority, Tiberiu Soare’s look, from the box near the scene, greedy, like a predator, devouring the gestures of the blue-eyed old master.
The Allegro for Strings was the fulminant start of the concert. And, indeed, all the power of seduction of the famous orchestra showed off through all the strings families, with a confidence that electrified everyone. An unusual vitality, proved also by Marriner, who seemed as vigorous and precise in his conducting as always, despite all prejudices. A privilege – we had the chance to see again a band of warriors of the bows, an army, the most peaceful army in the world, marching with elegance, but also with strength, across Elgar’s music. Once this spectacular introduction ended, it was impossible to anticipate how The Cello Concerto will sound.
Meneses, with the air of a delicate intellectual, came on stage, almost contrasting with the arranged sounds which were still reverberating in the hall. The first movement lived under the sign of the impeccable until the first cadenza, when the Brazilian cellist, after one final glance to Marriner, got hold of his instrument to his chest, closed his eyes, bowed his head over the cello’s neck and, suddenly, as in Tatiana Nikolaieva’s vision, for only one moment, in his intimacy with the instrument of his love, Antonio became Mstislav. And the second part continued in the same note of tenderness, with the orchestra as a serious witness, the only point of balance, the only rhythmical landmark. That continued in the last part, a mirror of the Concert’s beginning. And an encore, almost surprising and rare, Bach, simple, philosophically tempering the opulence of before.
The Enigma Variations… if anyone could tell how they were sung, I invite him to continue these impressions. When they ended, I ended the words that could describe them. In a sound as impressive as before, but with the woodwinds added to the extraordinary that we had until then, in a sonorous emergency, that let no place for the attempts to solve the enigma itself of the theme that produced so many debates since Elgar composed this piece, everything was full of allégresse, a divertissement, that went a lot beyond the agreable, and took the audience to the astonishment, to non-dissimulated, out of control admiration for a perfectly round result. A place where both Elgar and Mozart, and both romanticism and classical rigour, the smile and the perfect form loomed at every second.
As always, everything ended too quickly, without any encore, I will stay with Marriner’s image while he was untying his bowline, happy, while his accomplices were enjoying their extraordinary success. I already knew I was going to miss the second performance, that of the meeting with Mendelssohn, the day after. But I left the Atheneum convinced that I would meet Sir Neville Marriner again, I have no idea when and where, what matters is that now I know this for sure.