Chennai and Tamil Nadu
Some double recitals
It was a mixed experience at the East-West Encounter of the Bangalore School of Music
Bangalore School of Music's sixth concert in its East West Encounter was a Double Recital of performers from the Czech Republic. Roberto Sterba was vaunted as "a rare opportunity to hear a world-class tenor". True, solo vocal classical music is seldom heard in India, but bel canto (denoting the acme of virtuosity, particularly in very florid passages) Sterba was not, and it was left to pianist Radoslav Kvapil to rescue the evening with his masterful rendering of some Eastern European pieces, unfamiliar to most of us.
Sterba's repertoire comprised of very well-known arias and songs, popularised by Three Tenor concerts. It proved to be a double-edged sword: the choice of arias such as La Donna e mobile was an attempt to please the audience, but they also made Sterba's vocal shortcomings very evident. He could not form notes clearly, wobbled when he tried to sustain notes, and was embarrassingly off-key when hitting high notes. He fared better in the lower registers and in the Smetana and Dvorak songs which, being in the folk idiom, were not as technically demanding as the operatic oeuvre.
While he very patiently accompanied Sterba's singing - though at times the keyboard was too loud over the voice - one did not suspect the talent Radoslav Kvapil was capable of, till he unleashed it in his first piano solo, Liszt's Legends #2, bristling with chromatics and cadenzas. That he could move from such fiery technique to the more gently meandering Poetic Tone Pictures by Dvorak, showed his proficiency over such different styles of music, though generally he was insufficiently lyrical. The few slips noticed in Kvapil's performance might have been due to his having had to take on the unfamiliar role of accompanist.
The most extraordinary musical experience of this Festival came in its seventh Concert, with Bernard Mystraete's performance on his invention, the octo bass flute. He also oversaw its manufacture and only three such instruments exist worldwide. It is a convoluted contraption, large enough to need the prop of a unipod. To commemorate this Festival, Mystraete composed Indravisions, a solo played against a DVD projection, which aimed to show his world of music, the camera exploring the instrument, almost like an endoscopy of its innards. The octo bass flute possessed a fascinating range of sounds, from the breathy notes of the Andean flute (made from human thigh bone) to electronic noises. Later, Les Solistes Francais accompanied him on his composition, Indian Quintet, in which he did quick changes between the more conventional transverse and bass flutes and the piccolo.
It was this French group, Les Solistes Francais, that opened the evening with that most famous of string quartets, Schubert's Death & the Maiden. The group's attack was well suited for the work's dramatic opening, and cellist Caroline Glory impressed in the piece's dark and foreboding vein. However, this composer's tender lyrical side soon bubbles up through the roiling anguish; in Schubert, exquisite melody cannot be long suppressed.
Dvorak's "American" Quartet is one of the loveliest pieces written for strings. Dvorak's move to the US gave rise to the far better-known New World Symphony, which incorporates the novel musical experiences the composer encountered there. But this Quartet also contains the elements of Negro spirituals, Appalachian folk music and Ameri-Indian chants. Themes are passed around all four players, giving them a chance to show their artistry so that one heard how good Benjamin Baricout was on the viola and David Wacheux on second violin. The younger players outshone their senior, Bernard Wacheux, whose lead violin sounded thin, and notes not always perfectly formed. As a group, Les Solistes Francais was well co-ordinated, as was their interaction and cohesiveness as a musical unit.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu