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Friday, 30 January 2015

pppp, and you're done

To Birmingham last night to hear the Academy of Ancient Music, a long established thirty-strong group who play on period instruments. The music wasn't all that ancient, 'twas all Mozart and he's mid-eighteenth century. Or, if you prefer, timeless.

It should have been good; perhaps it was. The conductor was Robert Levin, an academic who is also a nifty keyboardist. He played WAM's loveliest piano concerto, the twenty-fourth. conducting from the instrument not the podium. The programme said piano but it was the much smaller, much quieter fortepiano; it had to be; a modern Steinway would have drowned out the gut-string violins, the valveless trumpets and the wooden flutes. A Ferrari among Model T Fords.

Fortepianos sound OK on CDs, We've got Melvin Tan doing Beethoven's first and second piano concertos and I love his agility. In the concert hall it's another matter. So much went for nothing. And we were in the priciest seats, dead centre, eleven rows back.

Yeah, I know all the arguments. Less resonance, faster articulation, music as the composer would have heard it. But if you can't hear it... As Basil Fawlty said, it's so basic.

THIS seemingly eviscerated accordion consists of 68 tickets (Grandson Ian's coming too) for 23 movies at the Borderline Film Festival, starting February 27. The titles: La Maison de la Radio, Ida, Whiplash, Wild Tales, Still Life, Foxcatcher, Birdman, Cycling with Molière, Enemy, Inherent Vice, Winter Sleep, Most Wanted Man, Mr Turner. Lourdes, Clouds of Cils Maria, Amour Fou, Duke of Burgundy, Black Coal - Thin Ice. Boyhood, Ex Machina, Before I go to Sleep, Phoenix.

From France to UK to China to USA to Canada to Israel to Poland to Germany to Argentina to Turkey.

We'll let you know. 


  1. Years ago went to Liverpool anglican cathedral to hear Beethoven's ninth. Sat rear of transepts. Sound hopelessly impoverished; so disappointing.

  2. 'Most Wanted Man' was worth my time. Hope you all find it so, as well.

  3. I liked Boyhood. Went in biased by knowledge of production details... and I've been an Ethan Hawke fan since "Training Day". Basil Fawlty. Just the name in print cracks me up. Haven't seen him in a long time. I guess you found it impossible to simply pretend you were IN the 18th century for a couple hours? I might have tried that route.

  4. Sir Hugh: Following a similar experience to yours at nearby Dore Abbey (Emma Kirkby accompanied on a lute) I have ruled out listening to music in any form of church. Or, for that matter, going there for the commercials.

    Crow: Very well reviewed here in the UK. Hoffman's last I believe.

    MikeM: Only eight episodes of Fawlty Towers were ever produced, after which John Cleese elected to go out on a high. FT regularly appears in the top five best British TV comedies of all time. Did you know that the character JC plays actually existed, as did his hotel - in Torquay, Devon.

    Time-warping back to 18th C? The discrepancy lay in the huge difference between the sounds of the accompanying orchestra (which we could hear quite well - in fact the period oboe, which looked like a chair leg, was rather too penetrating) and the fortepiano. Levin faced out towards the audience so the fortepiano obscured him from the waist down and during ensemble playing one could only infer that the keyboard was uttering any sound whatsoever. I know this concerto very well and I knew what I was missing.

    In the 18th C it would have been played in a much smaller hall, probably a salon - Symphony Hall at Birmingham can hold about 1500 people I should think. It has superb acoustics (we've heard many modern instrument concerts there) but I think the AAM was a step backwards too far.

  5. That piano looks like the inspiration for the stretch limo.