Friday, May 10, 2013

Concert: Music of the Spheres (02/01/2013)

Yuko Tanka, Joanna Blendulf, and Jeanne Johnson

First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, CA

Music of the Spheres
Jeanne Johnson, Baroque violin
Joanna Blendulf, viola da gamba
Yuko Tanaka, harpsichord

Toujours l'Amour

LECLAIR: Violin Sonata Op.5 No.4 in B flat
RAMEAU: Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin
JACQUET DE LA GUERRE: Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor (1707)

MARAIS: Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve du Monte de Paris
MARAIS: Pieces de Viole from Troisieme Livre
COUPERIN: Pieces de clavecin, quinzieme ordre
      La régente ou la Minerve 
      Le dodo ou l'amour au berceau
REBEL: Deuxieme Suite, from Pieces Pour Le Violon (1705)

這場是緊接著之前在Stanford聽John Dornenburg拉gamba之後的音樂會。Music of the Spheres成員裡,正好有前一週John的伴奏Yuko Tanaka。拉gamba的Joanna Blendulf,也是活躍灣區的古樂家之一;只有小提琴家Jeanne Johnson,平時是在東岸的。



接下來Rameau的Pièces de Clavecin也是我很熟的音樂。上半場最後一首,女性作曲家Jacquet de la Guerre的小提琴奏鳴曲,對我也是不陌生的。後者雖然名為奏鳴曲,但其實風格仍然相當法式。儘管對曲目已如此清楚,我此次深深感覺到,法國巴洛克的曲子,戲劇性不及義式曲風,因此在音樂會中比較沒有那種可以持續吸引觀眾的張力。Rameau的那首,應該就屬Le Vezinet最有活力,有雙手交插的橋段。而de la Guerre的奏鳴曲,雖然分多個樂章,但其寫作的方式,演奏時應一一相接在一塊兒。這首倒數第二樂章的Aria,讓我印象很深。除了本身就很優美之外,它的主題似曾相似,卻又說不出來在哪兒聽過。而且,如同許多法式巴洛克室內樂,viola da gamba一度甚至會脫離數字低音,有獨立的聲部。

上半場聽完,對於Music of the Spheres的演奏風格也有一點瞭解。當然,光用法式曲目來判斷一個樂團,有時不見得客觀,但也八九不離十。她們的演奏算是較偏保守,不能說是無趣,但也不會將音樂好好推一把,增加其新鮮或刺激感。因此,一場音樂會下來,留意到的不是他們的演奏風格,而是作曲家本身的音樂。讓音樂自己說話的表演方式雖中肯,卻少了另一種和音樂互動的那個層面。

下半場的Marais,是給Blendulf好好表現的機會。那首Sonnerie,是描繪教堂的鐘聲,由數字低音不斷重覆的三個音做為基礎。雖然高音部由小提琴奏出清晰的旋律,但真正的主角是viola da gamba。這首曲子對於gamba的挑戰是無庸置疑。Blendulf拉起來,得心應手,表現是可圈可點。在Sonnerie之後,她們又加了曲目單原本沒有的東西,是Marais的幾首gamba曲子,出自第三冊D大調的組曲。讓我印象深刻的,是最後一首Chaconne,開始平淡,不過一半過後,開始有一連串激昂的八度音部份。


最後Rebel的組曲,是我最陌生的。組曲的八支舞,大部份不長,而我喜歡的變奏曲形式Passacaille,被排在第五首。留下最深刻的印象的一首,理應是那首Passacaille。但是,最後一首Caprice奏出時,Passacaille僅存的任何一絲光茫,都被Caprice的光輝給徹底蓋過去了。這首Caprice的開頭,便是日後Rebel的Les Elemens組曲中Chaconne Le Feu的開頭主題。不過,二者相似之處,也在前一分鐘內就盡數劃清了。如同其標題一般,Caprice的隨想一波接著一波,潮起潮落,將要平息,但一經轉折,聲勢再起。史詩般的曲子,在近十分鐘後劃下休止符。我對Rebel的賞識,立刻多了好幾分。

This concert immediately followed the one by John Dornenburg by a week or so.  Music of the Spheres features John's very own harpsichord partner Yuko Tanaka, Bay area gamba player Joanna Blendulf, and East Coast Baroque violinist Jeanne Johnson.

The two main themes of the concerts were love and French Baroque music.  The first one wasn't hard to figure, since it was literally an early celebration of Valentine's Day.  As for the second, well, the concert just featured an all-French program, which is unique itself already.  In an attempt to combine both themes as much as possible, preceding each piece was a quote about love, most likely by famous French poets and writers of the past, read by violinist Jeanne Johnson.

The opening Leclair violin sonata is a piece I technically had not heard before.  To me, Leclair represents the France's true synthesis of the Italian and French style, even though F. Couperin starting advocating that decades ago.  The starting two movements have Italian tempo markings, but the remaining two are French dances, a Sarabande and a Chaconne.  The Chaconne I was very much familiar with, because he later reworked this piece into a trio sonata, which I have a recording to and talked about before

The next piece by Rameau was one that I knew very well, as was the Jacquet de la Guerre piece that followed, although to a lesser degree of familiarity.  The de la Guerre sonata is an earlier example of les goûts-réunis, but the style is more pronouncedly French.  Despite knowing these pieces already, it becomes apparent that French Baroque chamber music lacks the drama to continuously engage the audience like the Italian ones.  That is not to say that these pieces don't have more exciting moments. Rameau's Le Vezinet has moments of hand-crossing, or  pièce croisée, depending how one wants to play it.  The de la Guerre's sonata, like many early French sonatas, is written such that the movements should be played one after another without much pause.  The most beautiful movement is the Aria, second to last movement, where the main theme gives me a sense of deja vu, but I can never pinpoint where I've heard it before.  Unusual for Italian sonatas but common in French ones is the detaching of the gamba from the continuo and given its own independent line. 

By the end of the first half, I got a good sense of Music of the Spheres's general style.  To be fair, judging their playing on French chamber music may not be truly representative, but one does get a good idea nonetheless.  I would characterize their playing on the politer side of things, not necessarily dull, but missing opportunities to push the music to make it even fresher and exhilarating.  What one tends to remember is then, is more of the composer's music, and not how the performers actively took on the music. 

The Marais pieces of the 2nd half provided Blendulf ample opportunities to showcase herself.  What better piece to choose than the iconic Sonnerie?  I remember first hearing this piece when fellow classmates performed this at a noon recital, which left a lasting impression.  It would be a while before I owned a recording of it myself, but this would be a favorite of mine.  Here, Blendulf proves she is more than up to the task, giving us a well-balanced, tastefully done performance.  A slight change in the program meant they threw in some extra viola da gamba pieces.  Among the few miniatures, I recount the ending Chaconne the best.  Starting out a bit mellow, the music starts cooking with sequences of octaves.      

What can be described as a relative disappointment was Yuko's solo harpsichord pieces.  The pieces she played were exactly the three pieces she played a week ago.  I suppose more than 99% of the audience did not go to the Stanford concert and more than delighted to hear the Couperin.  For me, this was more of an indication that she probably did not have the time to put two separate programs together and settled on duplicating them.  Playing-wise, it was solid and in some ways, an image of the previous week's.        

The last Rebel was my least familiar piece of the whole program.  A true suite with eight movements, most of them are not lengthy.  A Passacaille is 5th in the lineup, which is a little unusual not anchoring the suite.  Now this variation form is often an easy favorite of mine, but this time, it was easily overshadowed by the ending Caprice.  When the first few bars came out, I yelled out to myself, "no way ~~ !!"   This was the exact opening theme of the Chaconne Le Feu in his radical orchestral suite Les Elemens he would write decades later.  The similarities of the two pieces keep running for about a minute or so before they completely diverge, the Caprice going into more and more uncharted territories.  As the title rightly indicates, at the end of a phrase sprouts a new one.  Just when you think you've gotten to the end, it picks up momentum and keeps charging ahead.  By the time the near-ten-minute epic finally comes to a conclusion, I have gained newfound admiration for Rebel. 

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