Friday, August 10, 2012

Armagnac Nights of Music: Piano

ChapelTonight’s music outing was to the Abbaye de Flaran, a 12th century Cistercian abbey lying on the outskirts of Valance-sur-Baïse. The French pianist Jean-Marc Luisada presented a program of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Debussy. It’s a bit meat-and-three-veg as far as recitals go, but it’s rare to get adventurous programming in non-urban venues.

The recital took place in the abbey’s cloisters in a rather unusual layout. Unlike last night’s brass performance in the Condom cathedral cloisters where everyone sat under cover in the open area, tonight we had the piano situated in one of the corners, and two branches of narrow rows of seats under the arcades at right angles to each other. It was a bit like a small passenger jet had been split down the middle and opened up into an arrow-head facing the performer.

The tightly packed seats didn’t allow any leg-room so I didn’t even attempt to sit where my ticket indicated. If I had, my knee would have been screaming with pain before the first piece was done. Instead I found a cosy spot on a ledge which was less cloisterphobic, and fortunately did so before it was taken by one of the other patrons unable to use the provided seating.
Abbeye de Flarancattle class concert seating
Beethoven’s bagatelles have never raised much interest from me, but there was nothing much I could say to fault Luisada’s performance other than he perhaps missed a few opportunities to pick up a melodic line here and there. The entire concert was played with music scores, so there was sometimes an air of “sight reading” rather than involved interpretation. This I found particularly so in the Schubert C major sonata D840, which is a very long affair even in its unfinished state. He didn’t manage to sustain interest for me through the extreme dynamic range and I can’t tell you if he left it as is or used one of the completions, perhaps the one by one of his teachers Paul Badura-Skoda.

The audience thinned out a bit after intermission, and while I was tempted to leave, I did want to hear his Chopin Barcarolle. While last night’s venue offered architectural distractions, here I could watch the birds flitting around the lawn as the daylight escaped, and then enjoy the stars after the house lights were extinguished. I could just see Luisada playing through the columns but wished I’d had the temerity to go lie on the grass and stare at the heavens.

The program order was changed to allow a set of Debussy Preludes to precede the Chopin. At least here were some pieces I’ve played, but again I felt something was lost (“too much banging” as I heard some ladies say) and then midway through The Girl with the Flaxen Hair he stopped playing and departed the stage. I don’t know if something was wrong with pianist or piano, it was hard to tell and some people were so confused they began applauding. I decided that I wasn’t interested in finding out and slipped out.

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