When the viola plays…

The orchestra detailed

Whilst we were away we attended a concert of operatic love songs given by a group of musicians consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, string quartet, bass and piano/harpsichord.

There follows the descriptions in apposition and opposition of the various instruments of the chamber group in relation to each other and their conductor who performed for a gathered audience in an auditorium in Venice.

The three singers, soprano, tenor and baritone were superb actors and played their parts very well, even to the extent of moving stage furniture around themselves when appropriate. The instrumentalists also displayed much character – and many well known characteristics. We must start with the leader (first violin), and then work from left to right.

The leader was every bit a librarian as you would ever expect to see – pretty, wearing a bun and the mandatory round metal framed spectacles. She always looked as if there was something going wrong. Her sternness was only matched by the accuracy of her fingers. On the left was the flautist, she was totally absorbed in the sound of the ensemble all of the time. When she had to play she almost gave the impression of ‘Must I play, but if I do I might spoil this gorgeous sound’. Of course she never did spoil anything, and was completely rapt in the beauty of the ensemble as she played. Next to her was the oboist. He was completely wrapped up too in his own sounds. When he was not playing he looked as if he only wanted to show how much more remarkable an instrument the oboe was, and he as a musician who played the oboe was, than any of the rabble that surrounded him, He waited impatiently for the next opportunity to shine, which he did of course whenever he pressed his lips against the cane. To his right was the clarinettist. If it had not been for the fact that now and again his fingers moved, you would have had to conclude that he was dead. Apart from the sound that emanated from his bell there was no life in him. Passing by our leader we come to the second violin, and what a second! If it were not that the notes she produced were required to complete the harmony I don’t think she would have been missed. I shall come back to the violist. on whose right we have the ‘cellist, who did what all ‘cellists do, produced beautiful sounds and somehow managed to remember that he was not a soloist. Next we had the keyboard player, who appeared to have a crisis of identity, being asked to play both harpsichord and piano in the same concert rather stretched the poor man’s brain somewhat. On the right we have the bass, a dear player who played for all her worth, perhaps as if she were trying to carry all the weight of Mahler’s 8th on her bass line, but, if you please, these were operatic love songs.

I said I would come back to the violist, and it is really necessary to set the scene a little more first. One of the pieces played was Offenbach’s barcarolle without the singers. The three woods were to take the melody lines and the strings to provide a pizzicato accompaniment. All starts well, four strings in pizzicato mode and woods doing their best. But one string is missing, and this to my mind produced the sternest of stern looks from our librarian. The missing string comes in playing arco, very beautifully arco of course as you would expect, but nevertheless still definitely arco and not pizzicato. Well what would you do in that situation? The librarian is shooting daggers at you, but you are in the middle of a performance and to suddenly shift for no good reason from arco to pizzicato would have let the performance down, ie the audience would have known something was amiss. Surely the art of performance is to turn mistakes to advantage? Well she did what all good violists do, either she brazened it out as if she hadn’t any idea at all what was going on, or else, she had not even noticed the librarian’s look, and carried on regardless.

The librarian did smile once. The baritone decided, perhaps to provoke her, that she was the object of his affection during one of his arias, and the kiss on her hand at the end of the song brought a little curl to the lips.

As my wife said: Only the Italians could do it that way, everyone an actor true to character!

None of this has anything to do with Chopin’s op 37 nr 2, but I thought I would bore you all with it anyway. I have two editions of the Chopin, and concerning this nocturne they are slightly different. I have not entirely decided which one to go with yet, what you hear is where I am presently, so as you listen: Ὄσοι οὖν τέλει, τοῦτο φρονῶμεν· καὶ εἴ τι ἑτέρως φρονεῖτε, καὶ τοῦτο ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει· Παῦλος ἀπόστολος which paraphrased may mean: Think about it. And if you think differently, we’ll talk when we meet.

Chopin 37:2