Sunday, 6 April 2008

Curate's Egg

On Wednesday I went to another Northern Sinfonia Concert at the Sage Gateshead with John. The first half (Bernstein's Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Copland's Music for the Theatre and Barber's Adagio) was great. To my surprise, the piece I enjoyed most was the Barber. I've tended to think of this as a bit worn out through overexposure (and, indeed, the Northern Sinfonia included it in a concert only a month ago). However, the playing was exemplary - the performers really sounded as if they meant it, and the result was genuinely moving.

The second half (Dvořák's Cello Concerto) exhibited all the qualities I dislike in "classical" music - to me it was stuffy, old-fashioned, stylised and full of 19th century musical clichés. The cello can be a beautiful instrument but, here, it simply wasn't. Every time it had a chance to shine, it seemed Dvořák undermined it by adding something distracting or downright tasteless (such as a saccharine flute accompaniment) in the background orchestration. This was only emphasised by Ralph Kirshbaum's encore, a Bach Partita (we think) for solo cello that really showed what the instrument can do.

The people I spoke to all seemed to enjoy either the first half or the second half, but not both.

This makes me question (not for the first time) the logic of the Sage's programming: why couple such widely diverging music together? Incidentally, I have written to Simon Clugston, the classical music programme compiler for the Sage, suggesting that the repertoires need a shake-up and that they should play more twentieth-century music like Debussy, Holst and (of course) Villa-Lobos. He didn't reply.

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