Monday, April 14, 2014

Concert: Elaine Thornburgh (11/03/2013)


Elaine Thornburgh, harpsichord

Musical Waves presents Tuneful Variations

FRESOBALDI Aria detta la Frescobalda
FRESOBALDI Partite 14 sopra l'Aria della Romanesca
SWEELINCK Mein junges Leben hat ein End
BYRD My Lady Nevell's Ground
BYRD The Carman's Whistle
BYRD Have With You to Walsingham
BYRD O Mistress Mine
BYRD John Come Kiss Me Now



接下來的Sweelinck與Byrd,我欣賞他們的作品,和Frescobaldi恰恰相反:我非常喜歡他們的變奏曲。三位作曲家中,Sweelinck的鍵盤曲是我最早接觸的,因此Elaine彈的這兩首我都相當熟悉。Mein junges Leben hat ein End,我前一陣子甚至還練過,可說是我最喜歡的一組Sweelinck變奏曲。Elaine彈這首時採取果較為陽剛的門徑,少了一點曲子標題(「我的生命將會是短暫的」)所述的悲傷,和我原先的預期不大一樣。不過,這種「化悲憤為力量」的詮釋,也是有說服力的。接下來的Est-ce Mars,是歌頌羅馬戰神Mars的曲子。Elaine繼續著前曲的彈奏方式,感覺更為合適。

Byrd的變奏曲,和Sweelinck一樣,都是根據當時在民間廣為流傳的旋律和歌謠當作主題的。Elaine這一天彈的變奏曲,大部份她也都曾在她的Byrd CD上錄過(唯有Have With You to Walsingham不在該CD上),所以也不是陌生的音樂。



Concert-hopping is probably never a good thing to do, even for the devoted concertgoer like me.  However, in the case of my former harpsichord instructor Elaine's house concert, that would be a slightly different story. 

Visiting Elaine's in San Francisco is not new. In fact, I have been up there many times in the past, a tradition Elaine does every academic quarter for her current students. During these gatherings, there is much food and snacks and playing, but all by the students and not her. Hence, hearing her play a full concert at her house is a true rarity. And for this afternoon, she presented with us keyboard variations of three tower figures of the late Renaissance/ early Baroque: Italy's Frecsobaldi, the Netherlands' Sweelinck, and England's Byrd.

Of the three, Frescobaldi's is the most unfamiliar to me. To be fair, I really enjoy his free-form pieces, such as the toccatas, canzonas, and fantasies that have unpredictable and contrasted sections. On the other hand, I have failed to appreciate his variation-style pieces up to this point. First and foremost, the opening themes simply aren't memorable enough. Second, adding to the fact that the variations feel loosely strung together, the overall effect is that most of these pieces have been hard to get into for me. Despite Elaine's playing, they ended up not having a big impression on me. The first piece is a short one (and some of Elaine's other students have played it in the past), but the Romanesca was a lengthy one, and my mind wandered a bit at few occasions. 

Things got substantially better as we came to Sweelinck and Byrd. In stark contrast to Frescobaldi, I absolutely adore their variations while remain lukewarm to their fantasies. Among these three composers, Sweelinck's keyboard music is the one I first heard, and his music holds a rather special place in my heart. His variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End is arguably one of my favorites, and it also happens to be piece in which I have personally played a few months before. Elaine's playing was more direct and less melancholy as the title suggests, which was a bit different than what I expected. The forceful approach does work though, and it was even more effective in the subsequent Est-ce Mars, a piece glorifying the god Mars. No doubt I know this piece, and hence enjoyed it greatly.    

Like Sweelinck, Byrd's variations are based on the famous tunes of his time. Elaine played 5 of them, and therefore it was the bulk of the concert. Most of these pieces are on her Byrd recording (still available on Amazon here), save for Have With You to Walsingham.

Compared to her recording made more than 20 years ago, her live playing was more intense. There was more articulation and the feel of momentum moving forward was more pronounced. Honestly speaking though, her recording is already well-done, but despite that, it still suffers by being a tad polite in a recording setting. On this afternoon, she took rhythms and pauses to more extremes without sounding trite, her placement of the chords were filled with grandeur and vivacity. Many of Byrd's variations build up to sections with spectacular runs and then anticlimax into simpler variations where one can clearly make out the opening theme. When the music truly comes to an end, you feel that mind has gone through a complete spa. In case of Byrd, it was five treatments back-to-back. 

There was a simple reception after the concert. I had only a few moments to catch up with Elaine and their tortoise, because I had to catch another concert on the other side of San Francisco.

Elaine's turtoise Sandy

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