Sunday, August 24, 2014

Concert: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra + Robert Levin (02/09/2014) (C.P.E. Bach and Haydn: Berlin and Vienna)



02/09/2014

First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA

C.P.E. Bach and Haydn: Berlin and Vienna

CPE BACH: Symphony in E minor, Wq. 178
CPE BACH: Keyboard Concerto in B minor, Wq. 30
CPE BACH: Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E-flat major, Wq. 47
HAYDN: Symphony No. 68 in B-flat major

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Ya-Fei Chuang, fortepiano
Robert Levin, harpsichord

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra又進入了古典時期。如之前格文提過,應該是PBO為了增加表演曲目,擴大觀眾族群的一個動作。這場音樂會將焦點放在C.P.E.巴哈上(2014是C.P.E.誕辰300年,可以想像會有很多他的曲子在音樂會上被表演。),附加一首海頓的交響曲,請來的演奏嘉賓為古鋼琴/大鍵琴家Robert Levin(列文)以及他的妻子,旅美台裔鋼琴家莊雅斐。

我念大學時Robert Levin曾來學校表演過,當時是和Christopher Hogwood的Acacdemy of Ancient Music一起演出的。那場音樂表演我印象很深,因為下半場Levin即興了一首長達十幾分鐘的曲子。但更酷的是,這首幻想曲的旋律動機,都是觀眾所提供的。中場休息時,會場準備了紙筆,請有音樂背景的人在五線譜的紙上寫好類似莫札特時代的旋律。下半場一開始,Levin從箱子中隨機抽出來,彈一次,並請大家投票要不要選用這個動機。整首表演下來,除了和觀眾互動效果十足,也令在場的人都嘆為觀止。十幾年後,有機會能再一次聽Levin的表演,自然是期待的。

開場的第一首是我沒聽過的C.P.E.巴哈交響曲,編號為Wq. 178,但其實和Wq. 177是同一首,只是在編制上又加了法國號,長笛,與雙簧管,使音色變得更豐富。它是早期古典的「快-慢-快」三樂章形式,風格是當時流行的Sturm und Drang(狂飆運動),一大特徵為音樂中強烈對比用來刻繪出焦躁不安情緒。唯獨中間第二樂章,是暫時擺脫了悲痛,沉醉在一片柔和的氣氛當中。和我認識的C.P.E.交響曲一般,除了三樂章之間沒什麼休息,他的音樂的走向常常讓人猜不透。McGegan帶領下的PBO,雖沒有歐洲一流古樂團的衝勁,但McGegan有自己的風格,一樣能將音樂的戲劇性烘托出來。

接下來也是小調的大鍵琴協奏曲,也可歸類為Sturm und Drang。其實,C.P.E.的風格也被其他學者稱之為Empfindsamer Stil(感性風格),它和Sturm und Drang的差別,有時僅是定義和觀點上的不同。這首協奏曲讓我再次聆聽到Levin的現場表演。他的表情和肢體動作仍然生動活潑,顯然是相當樂在其中。Levin彈奏大鍵琴給我最大的感覺,就是他整體的處理方式,顯示出他多半還是在用彈鋼琴/古鋼琴的技巧在彈大鍵琴。他的觸感仍然過重,樂句修飾太直接,少了大鍵琴家在樂器上的細膩感。

但多數來聽Levin彈琴的,並不是來聽他的大鍵琴觸感,而是來目睹他在鍵盤上的即興能力。C.P.E.巴哈的B小調協奏曲的第一和第二樂章,分別都有裝飾奏的部份。雖然C.P.E.都有寫好的版本,但可以想像Levin是絕對不會放過任何一個即興的機會。在PBO工作的朋友Marylin說她參加了另外三場的表演,每次聽到的裝飾奏都不一樣,可見Levin即興能力的真槍實彈。不過,Levin的裝飾奏並不是胡亂來的,而是以作曲家本身的旋律和主題做為基本藍圖,在規範之下即興。對於傳統古典樂訓練背景的人來說,Levin的表演肯定是讓人嘖嘖稱奇的。

中場休息後的第一首,是C.P.E.巴哈給大鍵琴和古鋼琴奇特的組合的雙協奏曲。莊雅斐女士加入了Levin和PBO,彈奏古鋼琴。這首是C.P.E.最晚期的作品之一,在他過逝的那一年完成的。雖無疑是C.P.E.的作品,但這時他已吸收了最現代的古典曲風。音樂,在古鋼琴和大鍵琴之間像球一樣被拋來拋去,長笛們有時也一同加入戰局,是首在嬉鬧的曲子。這種不正經的曲子,觀眾聽得開心和輕鬆。當然,這種音樂不見得適合每個人,因為事後有機會和PBO樂團成員聊天,他說此曲有點呆~~

大鍵琴,古鋼琴,以及樂團要一起演奏,最難拿捏的當屬音量的平衡。音色最單薄的大鍵琴,在古鋼琴和樂團的夾殺下,總是最難發揮的。雖然Levin偶爾會嘗試在上下排之間遊走,但效果不顯著。莊雅斐女士,則是一掃平常浪漫派曲子的氣勢,彈奏古鋼琴輕盈典雅。

音樂會越進行到後面,越走進古典時期。最後表演的四樂章架構交響曲,更是古典樂派音樂的重要基石之一。海頓的第六十八首交響曲裡,他將平常會放在第三樂章的小步舞曲,移到第二樂章了。海頓也安排了微妙的幽默,將平常重拍放在第一拍的小步舞曲,挪到了第三拍。而第三樂章的Adagio cantabile是全曲最長的樂章,長達約十分鐘。除了甜美的旋律之外,第二小提琴還在背景不斷奏出三度間擺動的規律節奏。不同於他第一〇一號「鐘」交響曲,這個鐘擺節奏常常會因為全樂團加入而從背景馬上成為前景。PBO在McGegan的帶領下,海頓音樂中的樂觀,幽默,率直,以及平易近人,以優雅的方式呈現出來。

一晚主打C.P.E.巴哈的音樂會,還有睽違十幾年再次聽見Levin的現場即興,來這場PBO音樂會,值得了~~

註:我和朋友們很幸運地坐在第一排,因此看和聽得都很清楚。坐我旁邊的Milly女士是視障人士,聊了一會兒發現她們家和我大鍵琴老師在Berkeley時的老師Alan Curtis是朋友。



Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra goes Classical again, as I believe is an attempt to attract a broader audience. Being the 300th birth anniversary of C.P.E. Bach, this concert's music was mainly devoted to him, with another Haydn symphony to complete the program. The guest performers were harpsichordist/fortepianist Robert Levin and his wife, Taiwanese pianist Ya-Fei Chuang.

I attended a Robert Levin concert back in my college days, and I remember it vividly as if it happened last night. He visited the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign with the Academy of Ancient Music, led by Hogwood. His most impressive performance that night was a roughly ten-minute improvisation based on various Mozartian themes to open the second half. What we didn't yet know was that these themes were to supplied by the audience. During intermission, there was pencil and strips of music staff paper where musically trained people could write short themes in the style of Mozart and toss them into a box. Levin would then draw them randomly out of box, play the theme, and ask the entire audience to vote on keeping or rejecting that theme. The ten minutes that followed would then be an awesome demonstration of improvisation that I would never forget. After more than a decade, I looked forward to hearing him play again.

In this PBO concert, the opening piece was a C.P.E. Bach symphony which I have not heard before. Labeled as Wq. 178, it's the same piece as the earlier strings only Wq. 177, but with added wind parts of horns, flutes, and oboes to add color to the orchestration. In the three-movement fast-slow-fast early Classical style, this Sturm und Drang piece is characterized by its typical sharp contrasts in the music to depict violent mood swings. Only the 2nd movement offers us to momentary tranquility. As with C.P.E. Bach's works of that period, the three movements were played without any noticeable break, and his music often takes us on unexpected rides. PBO's playing aren't as feisty and fiery as the top European period orchestras, but McGegan has his ways of bringing out the drama in the music that are just as effective.
  
What followed next was a harpsichord concerto, also in the style of Sturm und Drang. C.P.E. Bach's music has also been categorized by scholars as Empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style), though the exact differences can be a debate of music semantics. In this piece, I got to hear the much anticipated Levin play on the harpsichord. Levin's playing was animated and energetic, a clear sign that he was enjoying the music and moment. However, the strongest impression I got from Levin's playing indicated that he was first and foremost a pianist/fortepianist and most at home on the instrument. His touch on the harpsichord was still a bit heavy, and his phrasing was more direct and straight-forward, without the articulations you'd expect from most harpsichordists.

Of course, no one really comes to hear Levin's touch on the harpsichord. The main attraction was his impressive improvisation skills, which he fully demonstrated in the first two movements of the C.P.E. concerto. Bach had written out cadenzas, but Levin could not pass up the chance of offering his own. Friend Marylin who works for PBO said that she attended the other earlier concerts, and each time Levin came up with something new and genuine. Levin's cadenzas don't completely run wild, but are confined to the style of the piece. He starts out with the composer's themes as the blueprint, creating a more restricted but consistent performance. For the classically trained musician, Levin's playing is sure to draw amazement and admiration.  

The piece following the intermission was another C.P.E. concerto for the peculiar combination of the harpsichord and fortepiano, joined by Ya-Fei Chuang on the fortepiano. This is a late C.P.E. piece, completed the year of his death. Unmistakably C.P.E., he also managed to assimilate the latest musical fashions. The music is tossed around between the fortepiano and harpsichord, sometimes the flutes joining the fun as well. This is light, happy, crowd-pleasing music in general. Not all people are attracted to this music, naturally, and a PBO member later remarked that it was kind of a a "silly piece".

I think another challenging aspect of the piece was achieving balance among the harpsichord, fortepiano, and the orchestra. The weakest link had to be the harpsichord, at a huge advantage, being born without dynamics. Levin tried to mix it up by playing on different registers, to limited effectiveness, however. Ya-Fei Chuang leaves behind the Romanticism she's known for on the piano and puts in in a delicate and graceful reading on the fortepiano.   

The music became more Classical as the concert progressed. The last piece of the program was a four-movement symphony, one of the the cornerstones of the Classical period, Haydn's Symphony No.68. Haydn breaks a few norms by placing the faster menuet and trio as the second movement instead of the third, and for good humor, places the strong beat on the third instead of the usual first. The third movement, Adagio cantabile, without any doubt, was the longest movement of the entire symphony. In essence a theme and variations, the sweet theme is accompanied by the 2nd violins playing the back-and-forth interval of thirds in clockwork regularity. Different to his 101th "Clock" Symphony, this tick-tock is often catapulted into the foreground with sudden orchestral tuttis. McGegan led the PBO in a refined manner which brings out the joviality, humor, directness, and ease of approach in Haydn's music.

A concert mainly devoted C.P.E. Bach, and a chance again to hear Levin play and improvise live, that was certainly worth it. 

P.S. My friends and I were lucky to get front row seats, with the dual benefit of seeing and hearing clearly. Sitting next to me was a visually impaired lady, who turned out to be a good friend of Alan Curtis, whom Elaine studied with while at Berkeley.

Robert Levin

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