April 2015: I am at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the final curtain on Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka”, Op. 114 has just fallen. An exhilarating experience. I remember I left the opera in a kind of trance, perpetuated at least for some time by a glass of wine at the opera restaurant. The magnitude of the performance, directed by Robert Carsen and conducted by Jakub Hrusa, probably was the main reason why I never resolved myself to write a post about it even though I had one scheduled for autumn 2015. I was worried that the unique impression of music, the acting and the stage design would dwarf anything I would feel when listening to a mere recording and prevent me from rendering justice to Dvorak’s work (the casting is available here).
Bela Bartok is a challenge. His music – I love it. But to write about it… It took me a long time to warm up to his language, but once I had summoned the courage to explore his works in detail, I was greatly rewarded. The String Quartets recorded by the Emerson String Quartet – what a fascinating universe! Bartok is unique in his style and perhaps in his ambitions as a composer. Transcending the principles of the Vienna classics era, blending the teachings of the past, serialism* included, with folk music elements and composing principles from different ethnic backgrounds, forging thus a contemporary music style that compares to no other – how daring! Chapeau.
The wind, the wind, the heaven-born wind – you probably recognize that. It’s Hänsel and Gretel’s answer to the witch’s question: “Nibble, nibble, gnaw, who’s nibbling at my little house?” This string quartet is like the wind, or rather it is a whisper murmured into the wind, not meant to stay, meant to be blown away. Is it a lamentation? A silent prayer? A half-audible thought? A drawn-out sob about a sad reminiscence?
Ah, yes… Bartok. That Hungarian enigma. I hesitated for months before presenting one of his pieces as I haven’t studied his works long enough. It took the French pianist Hélène Grimaud to spur me. She was in town yesterday and what should I say? She was fabulous and Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Sz. 119 was even more fabulous. An unusual piece executed with a lot of passion by Grimaud and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Seguin.