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Friday,  Dec 15,2017,22:49 (GMT+7)

Concertos or concerti, they’re still magnificent

Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Nov 15,2017,17:30 (GMT+7)
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Concertos or concerti, they’re still magnificent

Bradley Winterton

Conductor Tran Nhat Minh - PHOTO: HBSO

Just as the word ‘classical’ means different things within and without the classical music community, so too ‘concertos’ (or concerti if you prefer the Italian spelling) means different things in different contexts. Basically, they are pieces for orchestra (or just string orchestra) with one or more solo instrumentalists, though the word can also refer simply to a piece of music for a collection of instruments, in effect all soloists (such as in Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos).

Be that as it may, HBSO is presenting a Night of Concertos at the Opera House on November 19 (Sunday) containing four such pieces, all of them for two solo instruments rather than the usual one. The conductor is Tran Nhat Minh and there is naturally a wide variety of soloists.

The Romantic idea of a concerto, as exemplified by Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, was of a charismatic soloist essentially pitted against the orchestra. The soloists represented the unconventional Romantic individual, and the orchestra society. Thus in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No:4 the pianist fights with the orchestra, but at the end combines harmoniously with it.

But all the concertos we are to hear on Sunday date from the pre-Romantic era, basically the 18th century, though the Czech composer Franz Krommer is a little bit later. This means that the soloists are in accord with the other instrumentalists from start to finish, simply displaying more magnificently and usually more daringly.
It’s significant too that the orchestra on Sunday will be a smaller version of the usual HBSO line-up. Dubbed the HBSO Chamber Orchestra, it accords well with the 18th century format of a more pared-down performance group, rather than the grandiose Romantic orchestra of anything up to 100 players.

The evening begins, however, with Handel’s celebrated ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, an instrumental piece from his oratorio Solomon now famous in its own right. It was even used in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

After Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Violins, a vivacious work, one of many by this prolific red-haired Venetian composer, we will hear Mozart’s much-loved early Concerto for Flute and Harp. Mozart was reputed to dislike the flute, despite writing a major opera featuring one in the title. This, however, is a ravishing piece, and will be played in Saigon by two Japanese soloists,  Kaoru Kamiishi on the flute and Nana Ishizaki playing the harp. Why harpists are invariably women is a mystery that, perhaps, will never be solved.

After the intermission a similar pattern will be followed – a less prestigious 18th century work followed by an absolute humdinger. First comes Albinoni’s Concerto for 2 Oboes, with another Japanese artist, Kosei Maekewa, playing one of the oboes. Then there’s Krommer’s Concerto for 2 Clarinets in E Flat.

In terms of the clarinet at the end of the 18th century, in what is called the ‘classical period’, meaning the time of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Mozart was the one to beat. He’d virtually discovered the then new instrument after hearing a masterly exponent, Anton Stadler. He was amazed by its huge range from shrill high notes to sonorously low ones, and exploited this with runs up and down the scale in two major late works. These were his Clarinet Quintet, an incomparable masterpiece by any standards and enough on its own to win anyone over to classical music (in either senses of the words), and his Clarinet Concerto, less extraordinary but still intensely beautiful.

Not many of his successors took up the clarinet in quite the way Mozart had, but Franz Krommer (1759 to 1831) did. Audiences in general may not know Krommer very well, or at all, but clarinetists do. Living well into the Romantic era, however, his approach was rather different from Mozart’s. Full-blooded sound and dramatic effects replaced Mozart’s instinct for the exquisite, and his Concerto for 2 Clarinets consequently makes an ideal piece with which to finish what should be a mixed but intensely fascinating evening.

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