Elger Niels - De Nieuwe Muze/NL

Eliane conducting the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra
Justus Grimm
Tatiana Samouil

Yesterday evening saw the first concert of the Música Romântica Saas-Fee summer festival in the Valaisian Alps, by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra - this year's guest orchestra - featuring Eliane Rodrigues - the festival's human linchpin- as a conductor and piano soloist. The programme featured some lively music, with Mozart's Piano Concerto KV 414 and his Divertimento KV 156 as an energising upbeat. With a solid string section, one could tell instantly that this would not be Mozart according to the rules of period performance. This proved to be entirely inconsequential, judging from the ensemble's highly precise phrasing and articulation, which guaranteed absolute transparency. Eliane Rodrigues chose energetic tempi that were never hurried and, in doing so, was able to bring the melodious qualities of Mozart's music to the foreground. Additionally, ample space was reserved to accommodate his melancholy nature - which gloomily emerged after the solo passage in the middle movement, set in a minor key, with the entrance of the French horn, destined for doom.

After a brilliant finale Eliane Rodrigues selected one of Chopin's Nocturnes as an encore from which she once again surprisingly liberated a dancelike undertone, demonstrating an uncanny ability to coax the most breath-taking pianissimo passages from the Fazioli supplied by Evert Snel Piano's - Vleugels BV.

After the interval, Rodrigues took up the baton to place an emphasis on the catchy rhythms of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, fuelling the almost ritual joy that the composer expressed in notes. Here, too, the orchestra set to work in a highly disciplined manner, while Rodrigues - conducting all the while - provided the performance with spontaneity. Of course, fireworks from the audience were in order.

The programme of the second concert of Música Romântica Saas-Fee, held yesterday, was typical to this festival, with a selection of frequently and rarely performed melodious repertoire.
The opening piece was one of Johann Strauss Jr.'s brilliantly put-together waltzes - Rosen aus dem Süden - in which conductor Modestas Pitrénas allowed the musicians of the Lithuanian National Orchestra to play with verve and attention for the interior voices in Strauss' sophisticated orchestrations.

This was followed by a work that most listeners have seen performed on stage only rarely: the Cello Concerto that Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed for the film Deception.
Today, his Violin Concerto, relegated to the background as a ‘poor relation' for many years, is one of the most frequently played 20th-century violin concertos. With Justus Grimm as the soloist, this Cello Concerto was also extremely compelling. Listening to the lovely cantilena lines presented by Grimm with a robust yet flexible tone, one could perhaps complain that this one-part work is simply too short. Nevertheless, we can consider ourselves lucky that the composer extended the scope of the original film score (from the film Deception) by twofold through this concerto. Through his alert gestures Pitrénas allowed the orchestra to excel in the orchestral part, which was far from simple - and dates from an era where Hollywood orchestras were dominated by Russian and Jewish immigrants fleeing Stalin and Hitler.

Sergei Rachmaninov's symphonic representation of Arnold Böcklin's painting Die Toteninsel is not performed as regularly in the Netherlands' concert halls as one might think. The composer derived his inspiration from an etching made by Max Klinger from the original and which shows Charon rowing a deceased person to the underworld while Death, clad in a white sheet, silently holds vigil. The 5/4 rhythm, which carries the main motif, represents the irregular beating of the oars. It was precisely this motion that Klinger added to his etching by drawing a waving movement in the water, which is almost as smooth as glass in Böcklin's painting.

When Rachmaninov saw the original he admitted that he might not have composed the work at all had it not been for Max Klinger's etching. He remained silent about another, very important element which he added to his first draft later on: the scintillating melody that symbolises life. Rachmaninov composed this melody, which enters into an unfair combat with Death, after unexpectedly receiving an announcement that his childhood love, Vera Skalon, had died. Although this was highly unusual for any work of Rachmaninov's, this work was premièred earlier than intended - albeit for good reason.
Pitrénas was able to maintain the tension in a broadly drawn out narrative, in which the music was driven towards the impressive climax one step at a time. The deathly silence of the audience after the last, pale chord spoke volumes.

It was no one less than Sergei Rachmaninov who called Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto the best Romantic piano concerto. The fact that he completely eclipsed his own work is less surprising than that he glossed over the piano concertos of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Tchaikovsky, which were considerably popular at the time. Rachmaninov admired the perfect balance between virtuosity and lyricism and, of course, the bright, fresh sound of Grieg's harmonic and melodic ideas.

Eliane Rodrigues brought this aspect strongly to the foreground by playing the solo part both playfully and with aplomb. Both here and in Grieg's Notturno Opus 54 No.4, which we were granted as an encore, the Brazilian-born pianist demonstrated that she is one of the grandmasters of the piano sound - a performer who can produce an entire kaleidoscope of colours within a single piece - from great passion and lyricism to a quasi-ethereal hushed silence.

The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Modestas Pitrénas were the stars of last night's concert; the fourth concert of Música Romântica Saas-Fee.
The programme before the interval featured two works that can only be heard in the concert hall by way of great exception: Frans Liszts' Fantasy on Themes from Beethoven's "Ruins of Athens" and the symphonic poem In the Forest by Lithuania's national hero in the field of music Mikolojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, who was also an excellent painter. The last work, above all, offered some interesting tie-ins: the influences of Wagner, Smetana and Tchaikovsky could all be discerned in turn. However, the sum of parts was less of a success because Čiurlionis simply does not have the gumption to develop an idea for longer than 32 bars - while at least three fragments of musical material passed by that would certainly have been worthy of in-depth development.

Neither is Liszt's Fantasy on Themes from Beethoven's "Ruins of Athens" optimally proportioned, which can cause the attention to quickly slacken. Soloist Eliane Rodrigues, however, kept us captivated with her virtuoso playing. Once again, she impressed the audience with the vast array of colours she is capable of producing - with which she effortlessly echoes the sound of the triangle, or passes it on to the cellos.

Tatiana Samouil also made a great impression in Ravel's Tzigane - her violin playing was not absolutely flawless, but extremely musical, playful and loyal. Also, the manner in which she, as a soloist, sought contact with the conductor and the orchestra was noteworthy. And more can certainly be said about these two musicians after their plea for Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka.
The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra surpassed itself by pairing tremendous discipline with a constructive group dynamic, in which the instrumentalists listen to one another appreciatively, encouraging one another with a nod or a smile. Conductor Modestas Pitrénas is perfectly inspiring. By fully becoming one with the music, he is able to transmit it in credible body language. Being able to hear Stravinsky's clownish and ingeniously cavorting musical material in such an expressive and nevertheless precise rendition was pure joy, making the standing ovation absolutely deserving.

The penultimate concert of Música Romântica Saas-Fee opened last night with the Orchestral Suite, Opus 20 from Tchaikovsky's famous Swan Lake. Conductor Yuri Serov - a frequent guest at this festival - gave the upbeat for a concert brimming with classics. Under Serov's baton, you could hear a hint of Mravinsky coursing through the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra: layered, but also a little massive, powerful, and slightly solemn - even in the Capriccio Italien, Opus 45, that followed, which Serov stirred up very effectively to a furious tempo that would not have been out of place in a Rossini overture. The dedication with which the orchestra responded to his approach, which differed substantially from that of their own principal conductor Modestas Pitrénas, was once again remarkable. Serov demonstrated his satisfaction, which was entirely justified, and allowed the ensemble to share in the applause before the interval.

In the second part of the concert, Eliane Rodrigues starred in Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. Rodrigues underscored the fact that she senses a spiritual message, above all, in this concerto through the intense arch spanning the entire first movement. Still, the balance both in and with the orchestra could have been better. As a result, some of the interior voices in the orchestra solos and the piano part became obscured. This all changed in the second movement when, making use of Rachmaninov's transparent orchestration, Eliane Rodrigues managed to take the softest passages from a mezzo forte to a genuine pianississimo. From there, she drove the music to a robust climax to subsequently present the recapitulation and even smaller dynamic values. Following a roaring finale, in which Rodrigues emphasised not only the virtuosity and the pathos, but also the frivolous brilliance of the concerto, the audience rose from the church pews for a lengthy applause that the pianist answered with an unprecedentedly subtle rendition of Claude Debussy's Claire de Lune. The concert grand piano supplied by Evert Snel Piano's - Vleugels BV is, of course, magnificent; I still wondered if Paolo Fazioli could have suspected in his wildest dreams that his instrument could emit such beautiful sounds.

Last night, music lovers from near and far came together once again for the final concert of Música Romântica Saas-Fee. Earlier that day, the clouds gathered - sometimes grey, sometimes threatening and sometimes even raining - around the towering Mischabel mountain range, as if they were filled with melancholy Nevertheless, they cleared up after 7 o'clock in the evening, and all the ‘four-thousanders' revealed themselves once again. The visitors, who found it difficult to say farewell to this holiday paradise for lovers of nature and classical music after one and a half weeks filled with sun and musical delights, took themselves in hand to listen to the inevitable final chord.

True to tradition, Eliane Rodrigues treated her audience to a concert of film music on this last evening, in which the orchestra could pull out all the stops and in which there was ample room for a fragile, sentimental moment and everyone - revved up by the orchestra's rich, ‘feel-good' chords - could ultimately share in the retrospective joy of what was once again a highly successful festival.
After my extensive descriptions of the concerts I attended I would like to shine a spotlight on two significant moments. First of all, the string section of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra gave an absolutely glowing performance of Jóhann Jóhannsson's The Theory of Everything, just as they had on the opening night in Mozart's Divertimento KV 156. After having heard several concerts played by this orchestra I can say, without hesitation, that the secret to this ensemble's inspirational sound is not only discipline, but also solidarity between human beings. The orchestra lets us hear what has almost been lost in Western Europe through a lack of time and funding: an unforced, easy togetherness in timing, which can only be achieved if you breathe together entirely spontaneously.
The second significant moment was Eliane Rodrigues' patient interpretation of Chopin's Ballade Opus 19 in which she demonstrated how every note written by Chopin was fashioned from pure gold, demonstrating how naturally the polyphonic fabric of voices converges and disperses again. Even the tiniest chord in this polyphony was played movingly, sensitively and with tremendous accuracy. Anyone looking at the faces of the orchestra members listening to her could see that they too were deeply moved by this intimate moment, witness to a musical generosity that opens hearts and connects people.
Readers whose curiosity has been aroused should certainly consider attending next year!
Elger Niels - De Nieuwe Muze/NL