Modernism and medievalism

Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) composed in Russia in the same dangerous atmosphere as Shostakovich (see my earlier post): unlike Shostakovich, his lively music had relatively little trouble with State censorship. In the UK he is mostly known for two excerpts from his ballet scores - the 'Sabre Dance' from Gayaneh and the Adagio from Spartacus. Yesterday evening at the Royal Festival Hall Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Rafel Frübeck de Burgos performed his Piano Concert - composed in 1936 and his first major work. It is full of dissonant chord clusters: but it wears its modernism on its sleeve: underneath it is a good old-fashioned overblown romantic concerto, requiring its pianist to play triple-forte for much of the time. Thibaudet sailed through the considerable technical difficulties with ease: the work is an enjoyable show-off piece.

The second half of the concert was Carl Orff's secular cantata, drawn from a collection of racy Latin poems discovered in 1803 - having been lying around since the Middle Ages - given the title Carmina Burana. The poems describe the pleasures of drink the delights and pangs of love, and the tricks of fortune:

O fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis
semper crescis
ut decresis
(O luck/like the moon/changeable in state/you are always waxing/or waning).

There is nothing medieval about the music - not even the mock-medievalism of Warlock, or Walton in Henry V mode - which is lively and dynamic with strong rhythms; but still manages to draw the listener into the hard-living, hard-drinking and capricious world of the Middle Ages. The work requires a large orchestra - including ten percussionists and two pianos - with a large chorus plus a boys' choir, and three soloists. It was performed with tremendous energy: a special mention for the baritone William Dazeley for his performance as the drunken abbot:

Ego sum abbas Cuceniensis
et consilium meum est cum bibilis
(I am the Abbott of Cockaigne, and my deliberation is among drinkers).

de Burgos did tend to rush several of the items, in particular the hilarious list of all the people who drink in the tavern (Bibit hera, bibit herus/ bibit miles, bibit clerus) and Tempus es iocundum; though he did (as many conductor's don't) give full weight to the dramatic return of the opening number, O fortuna, at the end.

Posted: Wed - November 21, 2007 at 10:12 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM