Tuesday, 30 November 2010

French Connection

Chance events can provoke an interest; and it was the appearance of Pascal and Ami Rogé at the Australian Festival of Chamber in 2005 and 2006, together with a chance encounter with them in New York that encouraged me to fight jet fatigue and attend Pascal Rogé’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 29 April.

It was also fortunate that the day prior to the concert the Rogés appeared on In Tune on BBC Radio 3. This discussion was valuable not only in getting an understanding of the concert program, but also for the information that, following their performance of a work by Matthew Hindson at the Townsville festival, which I must have heard but am unable to recollect, the Rogés commissioned him to write a concerto for two pianos which they will perform with the Sydney Symphony next year. I have always enjoyed hearing Matthew Hindson’s music. My forgetfulness is related not to the quality of his music but the difficult task of bringing newly heard new music to mind after a single hearing.

When I learned of the new work I thought that Matthew Hindson’s usual fast pace and rhythmic drive will make for a very exciting concerto. I have since heard his short piece Beauty, written for the anniversary of the Australia Ensemble, and his 2010 work Light is both a Particle and a Wave. Beauty is not manic at all, I found it very moving, I don't know if he has achieved this kind of thing in any earlier compositions or if it's an new development for him, but whatever the answer, I now like his music more than ever. There are also some excellent contemplative passages in the second movement of Light... The awful thing is that if I travel as planned, I will not be here in Sydney when the concerto is performed in May 2011.

Of the concert itself, Pascal Rogé said that he designed the program to make the case for Chopin as a French composer. Chopin’s mother was French and he spent 15 years in Paris. He also wanted to show Chopin’s influence on the French composers who followed him Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc and particularly Debussy.

He says in the program:

I have interwoven the Chopin pieces with those of the other composers with hardly any pause between them, moving from one to another, as if walking from one artwork to another in a gallery. In this way, I was able to make connections between the works, and we could transport ourselves into a journey of sounds and colours.

And this is exactly what happened.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall was packed, with part of the audience seated right alongside the piano on the stage. By great good luck when I booked on line at the last minute about the only seat available was in the front row; a wonderful place to be for such a marvellous concert. Pascal Rogé played with an intensity I didn't see at Townsville, and there was, as promised, almost no pause between the works.

I have never been a great follower of Chopin, but I suppose I became familiar with his music by a kind of osmosis by hearing it from time to time on the radio and such. Almost all of the music was familiar to me, and the argument about the connection between Chopin and the French composers seemed unanswerable. Among the French pieces was The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, which has been known bring me to tears, which it did again.

The influence of Chopin cannot have been direct: none of the French composers can have known or heard him. Fauré's dates are the only ones with a small overlap:

Chopin 1810 - 1849

Fauré 1845 - 1924

Debussy 1862 - 1918

Ravel 1875 - 1937

Poulenc 1899 - 1963

so the selection gives some idea of the dominance Chopin's music must have had in Nineteenth century France.

Pascal Rogé made a recording of many of the pieces played in the concert last year, and I have now bought one. There is only one CD, so some of the pieces played in the concert are omitted. Having heard the concert, listening to the recording was a special experience for me, but I'm sure most would find well worth hearing on its own.

International Piano Series Queen Elizabeth Hall London 29 April 2010.