Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Romanian Athenaeum, Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3, Bucharest 030167, Romania

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Given the high-profile calibre of players and familiar faces in the East-West Chamber Orchestra, an ‘orchestra for peace’ founded in 2015, promoting cultural co-operation between eastern and western Europe as well as East and West generally, one would have hoped for a better undertaking than we got. Rostislav Krimer, a pianist who back in 2006 caught attention as artistic director of the Yuri Bashmet International Music Festival in Minsk, Belarus, has worthy ideas and intentions, the occasional high spot. But, on this showing, I found him a stiff, lethargic, deliberated personality, oddly unmoved by even the most emotionally charged moments. Playing to a small audience, this was a stick-waving ‘head in the score’ concert, with little or no eye contact, the players concentrating hard on the notes before them, watching and taking cues from each other rather than the podium, from their glances relieved/resigned by the end to have got through it all. Occasionally things gelled (passages in the Mozart, the third movement of the Tchaikovsky) but more often than not without rather than because of him. Or, not knowing what transpired in rehearsals, so it appeared. Nobody’s body language seemed that confident. Given patches of wayward unity and dicey string intonation, unexpected at this level, it all felt a bit like an un-coached college evening or a run-through at a recording session, waiting for retakes, balanced tensioning, and a producer in charge. Disappointing.

Frédéric Chaslin’s arrangement of Enescu’s 1926 Third Violin Sonata, “dans le caractère populaire roumain”, isn’t the first such transcription: Tasmin Little played a version by Valentin Doni at the 2019 Festival. But, effectively endowing violinists with the Concerto the composer never wrote, it’s a compelling orchestration, rich in Ravel-ian imagination, folk colouring and plateau/lowland Romanianism. The Frenchman Nicolas Dautricourt, back in the early nineties a student of Kantorow at the Paris Conservatoire, gave a reading happiest when intense – though not all his quieter moments and harmonics spoke with ideal clarity, and ensemble and timing/episode changes could have been crisper and less congested. Enescu used to move on this A-minor music at around the 23-24 minute mark, give or take. In performances with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under Chaslin himself – an experienced hand (he worked with Barenboim and Boulez in younger days, and at this year’s Festival conducted Korngold’s Die tote Stadt) – Jenny Hünigen took 24-26 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=28j9sGz88q0 for the quicker of these accounts). Dautricourt and Krimer opted for a measured 27, not always to expressive advantage, the moments of fire somewhat held back. Charlie Haden’s 1987 Silence, violin elaborating on Chet Baker’s original “beautiful sound” trumpet solo, made for an encore with a difference. Dautricourt should find an intimate venue (Paris, Valletta, somewhere Latin?) and record it late at night with the original backing – piano, drums, bass.

The Second of Mieczysław Weinberg’s four late Chamber Symphonies (1987) reminded, in the words of his daughter Anna, that Minsk, home to the East-West Chamber Orchestra, saved his life, a Jew from Warsaw, ancestrally Moldavian/Ukrainian, fleeing the Germans. “If Belarus had not given my father asylum, he would have suffered the tragic fate of his family: death at the hands of the Nazis in a concentration camp.” Three purposeful movements for strings, the second and third slow, with, in this performance, a dominant timpani presence, fiercely attacked yet poetically remote too, not afraid to be heard, the whole revisiting and reordering material from a D-minor Quartet written in the dark Soviet days of 1944.