Cannons and Lilting Conversations
The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra gives musical food for thought
When the players started coming on stage, the first thing that struck the audience was the prevalence of grey-haired, even balding, players. Obviously, these were experienced musicians who must have been playing for a long time together.
They started with La Battalia a 10, by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, which was interesting as certain parts of the music meant to be played in a duet were done perfectly in sync. This occurred although the two violinists sat one in front of the other, and seemed to be looking intently at their scores instead of using visual cues to synchronise their playing. Although this piece was originally written for 10 instrumentalists, the whole ensemble of 17 instrumentalists attempted it. In the March section of this piece, the bass player inserted a sheet of paper between the strings of his instrument. When played, the effect created resembled that of a snare drum. During the Battle section of this piece, the cellists and bassists snapped their strings in a manner to simulate the sound of cannons. For those who missed this performance and who still think violins are only played by sliding the bow, they truly missed some eye-opening and unusual acoustical effects that night.
In Concerto for Oboe and Strings in E-flat major, Wq 165, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the soloist was Stefan Schilli. It was interesting how much he bent over while conducting, in order to bring himself to the height of the seated instrumentalists, and also to emphasise his gesticulations. In particular, his high notes soared beautifully.
In Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Strings in C minor, BWV 1060R, by Johann Sebastian Bach, the solo violinist was Benjamin Hudson, who was also the first concertmaster and conductor. This highly enjoyable piece was reconstructed (hence the suffix R attached to the catalogue number) from the Concerto for Two Harpsichords BWV 1060. Since the keyboard writing of both solo parts were different, it was thought that these were originally written for two dissimilar instruments of similar registers. Thus the reconstruction used the unusual -- but totally musical -- pairing of violin and oboe. I personally liked the Adagio section of this piece -- a gentle conversation between both solo instruments, accompanied by pizzicato strings. There were also some places in which Schilli conducts, and lets the lilting conversation bounce like a ball between the violin and cello sections. One realises how difficult it must have been for the oboe and violin to duet when Schilli was sustaining such long notes, balancing on the verge of sounding flat in relation to the pitch of the other instrumentalists.
The last piece for the night was Sextet-Sonata for Strings (arranged after the Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18 by Iain MacPhail) composed by Johannes Brahms. The principal violist did not seem very steady. The last few notes of some of his phrases seemed to have dropped off. Nevertheless, the Scherzo: Allegro molto section of this piece was suitably exciting and energetic. The instrumentalists moved quickly and with sufficient unity.
The general intensity of playing by the instrumentalists and the unusual combinations of sounds made for a colourful and memorable concert.
The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra plays at the Victoria Concert Hall on 5-6 Jun 2002 (8pm). Tickets are available from SISTIC.QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002