Saturday, July 14, 2012

Back in France for a week for some great music

Illats, sout-west France.
In France for a week which, as this is the third year running, I might well now call my annual visit to eat well and listen to some baroque and renaissance music at several of the many concerts being staged as part of at least two summer festivals at various Bordeaus wine chateaux. Last night was my first this year, an enjoyable, if a little odd, performance of pieces by Pergolesi (he of the Stabat Mater, but he did a lot more besides. Samuel Barber used to say he got very ticked off indeed when people kept asking to hear his Adagio for Strings and assumed that was more or less the sum total of his output).

Performed were various arias from several Pergolesi opera (incidentally, I didn’t know until Thursday night that Pergolesi died when he was 26). The performers were a soprano, a women on various recorders, a chap playing a theorbe (look it up, I had to, but basically it is a stringed instrument with between 12 and 15 strings with an extra long neck), a chap on harpsicord and a third chap on a viola de gamba (which is not an stringed instrument covered in prawn - good pub quiz question that: which musical instrument is intricately related to prawns? Answer: none of them).

The oddness came from - and I am still finding it very hard working out why - various intermission and interruptions by a Punch and Judy show. Made me laugh a great deal, but: why. The programme notes (in French, a language I have no mastery of whatsoever, but I can laboriously read some of it and get the gist) point out that Pergolesi was intricately related to the city of Naples as was the commedia del’arte and its main character Pulcinella (from which we get our Mr Punch, a derivation of the anglicised Pulcinello),  but as far as explanations go, that’s a non-starter. Pergolesi was well-known for his comic operas (or so Wikipedia tells me - I don’t actually just happen to know that kind of thing) and there was interaction between the soprano singing her songs and Mr Punch. Perhaps, this being France, it was sophisticated, something which always leaves us Brits standing out in the rain. Still, the music was good. It was held at the Chateau Smith Haut Laffite.

Last night at the Chateau Caronnieux it was the turn of a certain Maxim Vengerov, performing a Handel sonata for violin and piano, a solo Bach partita and then Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. His accompanist was a certain Itamar Golan, and looking up the chap and whatever relevant details I could find, it seems the programme we got, as well as two of the encore pieces, were exactly the same they performed at London’s Wigmore Hall at the beginning of April. My aunt an I saw Vengerov last year at the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, but he didn’t really perform a great deal, but gave a masterclass. Itamar Golan is a handsome chap, but to my eyes didn’t look anything like a concert pianist and more like a hard man in the French securite - stocky and square-jawed. Shows what I know.

On Monday we are off to Chateau Gravas, which I dont’ think I know, for an evening of South American piece played on guitar and, I think, saxophone. Not very baroque or renaissance, but what the hell.

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