The weekend’s entertainments

by Tom Ingram

Quartet came out in Canada on Friday. It’s an hors d’oeuvre, but a good one. Billy Connolly is a great dirty old man, the music is very nice, and there’s a shout out to, of all things, Lovreglio’s Traviata fantasy for the clarinet.

The WSO concert was Ligeti, Prokofiev, and Dvorak, and it was a little more mixed. Ligeti’s “Concert romanesc” is a stunning little work by a composer I had underestimated. Unfortunately, Saturday night’s rendition of it was marred by some pretty awful balance issues and insipid tone from the cellos and bassoons. This carried over into Prokofiev (the third piano concerto). The soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, is a little too tentative and clean. The piano was actually inaudible at points, sometimes fairly crucial points. And he was too nice. The third piano concerto, especially in the first movement, is meant to be sloppy and vulgar. It’s witty, but foul-mouthed. Wrong notes are acceptable, even encouraged.

The Dvorak (seventh symphony) was much better—it’s pretty clear where all the rehearsal time went. So far this year, the meaty symphonic music has come off well, but the equally important crowd-pleasing character pieces have fallen a little flat.

I’m no expert on disability studies, but I strongly suspect there is something undignified in the way Tsujii was put on display. Like a freak show—“look everybody, blind people are people too! Some of them even play the piano!” The fact that he is blind seemed to overshadow the fact that he’s a fine, well-trained musician playing a great piece of music. The pre-concert talk was all about the challenges of blind pianism, and hardly mentioned Prokofiev. The standing ovation was for his heartstring-tugging story, not because his performance was astounding (it wasn’t).

More standing ovation-related hypocrisy: I confess I didn’t have the strength to stay seated during the whole ovation. In my defense, I defied the crowd at the end of the Dvorak, which didn’t bring many people to their feet because no one had to overcome anything in order to perform it. But the Dvorak was better.