Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Music for St Valentin

Happy Valentine's Day

If you thought Valentine’s Day dates were just for young lovers, think again. The crowd on 14th February at a “Valentine’s Day Classics” concert at The Barbican was decidedly, er, not young. But they looked, on the whole, very happy with the music presented under the general theme of Love.

I too enjoyed it - more than I really expected. Although the orchestra wasn’t the greatest (sorry, London Concert Orchestra, but I’ve got used to the LSO) they did an acceptable job with some classic numbers. Here’s what the organisers thought would be a good repertoire for St Valentin’s Day:

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture’ - first performed in 1870. I had not heard this before, and found it interesting and evocative. Of course, the lovers do die in the end in this story, so we were off to a questionable start.

Elgar’s ‘Salut d-amour’ - first performed 1889 at the Crystal Palace, so a good British number. And we moved to stronger romantic ground here with a young Elgar having composed the rather lovely piece for his then wife-to-be, Caroline Alice. He called her
‘Carice’ and dedicated the music to ‘Carice’. Awww...

That's more like it.

Johann Strauss II’s ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ - first performed 1867. Now, you can’t go wrong with the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’. Rousingly performed and a crowd favourite. Almost the Austrian national anthem.

George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ - first performed in 1924, having been composed in about 3 weeks after Gershwin forgot about the commission. He played the piano part at the first performance. We had an excellent young pianist named Vic McLean. This was a highlight: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is lovely music, and a great early 20th century favourite.

Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld Overture’ - first performed 1858. While the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is at least about a couple, the connection to romance doesn’t really matter when the overture contains so many recognisable melodies - including that other French national anthem, the Can Can.

Here's the Can-Can in it's operetta context.

Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, selections of all the famous bits (although without the singers that you get in the operatic version). Yes, Les Toréadors, the Act I Prelude, Aragonaise, Intermezzo (beautiful), Habanera and Danse bohème. You could almost see Escamillo on his horse. of course, this is another lover story that ends badly, with Don Jose stabbing carmen int eh end. But by this stage of the concert, such concerns were mere nitpicking.

Tchaikovsky (again) - the Waltz from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ - based on a fairy tale from 1697, about the baby Princess Aurora being cursed to sleep for 100 years if she pricks her finger. But no matter: the kiss of a handsome prince can awaken her. Back on strong romantic ground.

Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ - first performed in 1928. It was stunning then, and it is still stunning. This was a highlight of the night, though as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with romance, except perhaps for its mesmeric effect. The whole thing is just one melody repeated in the same sequence by different instruments in the orchestra, building up gradually to being played by the whole complement. It is as if the melody is trapped and can’t take wings, and the effect is tension and absorption. Loved it. I also learnt from the program notes that Ravel was inspired by the sounds of factories he visited on the Rhine: the dark satanic mills made music. Think about that when you hear that constant snare drum beat and the cacophonous finale. You really can envisage a great foundry at work. I learn something every day.

More than 9 million pople have viewed this Andre Rieu version of Ravel's ‘Boléro’.

Oh, and the encore? ‘Lara’s Song’ from ‘Doctor Zhivago’. Just a little saccharine to take away the taste of the factory.

A word about your sponsor: this concert was presented by an entrepreneurial outfit known as Raymond Gubbay Limited, which is responsible for any number of popular classical presentations in London. Usually they fill the 5,000+ seat Royal Albert Hall with amplified operas, massive choirs, and other such rousing presentations. They manage to book some very big stars, and the concerts usually sell out. Personally, I’m sorry that I am going to have to miss ‘The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Singalong’ later in the year, where there will be 5,000 patriotic locals joining in such numbers as Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, We’ll Meet Again, and various hits from Lulu, Elton John and The Beatles. I wonder if Her Maj will be there? Sounds like fun.

Happy St Valentin’s Day.


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