Saturday, 21 October 2017

Music – and musicianship – to take the breath away

Veronika Eberle
Every so often, a great work of art comes up for sale and people gasp when it goes for a huge sum – the sort of sum that is pretty unimaginable for most of us.

It’s fair to say that Stradivarius instruments are works of art – and they go for millions too, but while I’ve seen plenty of works of art that have been bought for a great deal of money or are insured for incredible amounts, I have not heard a Strad being played – well, not in the flesh, that is.

Or not until Thursday night, that is.

Back at the Barbican for our first concert since 1 June, when we left the Barbican after being delighted by the London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink and Mitsuko Uchida, playing Beethoven and Bruckner, this was for Haitink conducting the LSAO once more.

In this case, we started with Three Studies from Couperin by Thomas Adès (2006). The Other Half had not heard any of the British composer’s music before, while I’d not heard only a limited amount: both of us were fascinated.

Baroque composer Couperin was particularly fond of repetition and Adès’s adaptations are striking in their successful fusing of the old with the new and how they retain a sense of the Baroque while also bringing to mind something as modern and minimalistic as John Adams’s Shaker Loops.

Beautifully played and conducted, as a result, The Other Half uploaded my only recording of an Adès work to his digital collection – and I ordered copies of an anthology of his works, plus the opera, The Tempest.

Next up was Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor and out came German violinist Veronica Eberle – with that violin, the ‘Dragonetti’, made in 1700 at the start of the ‘Golden Age’ of Stradivarius. She plays it courtesy of the Nippon Music Foundation, which owns a number of great instruments and ‘loans’ them out to musicians.

But make no bones about it – the greatest violin in the world cannot make a mediocre player sound great: Eberle is exceptional and makes it sing.

Oh, my goodness. Almost from the beginning, I was leaning forward – drawn to the utterly sublime playing. At times, she almost dances while playing; like other truly great musicians, she makes the music come alive and rescues it from any sense of polite drawing rooms.

My view of Mendelssohn has been marred by ‘Here Comes the Bride’ – this rescued it.

At the end, it was like an orgasm: I burst into tears while bursting into applause. A sublime sound – like a soaring bird, on occasions: the clarity of the notes was simply other-worldly. This is why puritans of any stripe distrust (at best) music – because the experience of it can be like sex and, of course, like religious ecstasy.

After the interval, we returned for Brahms’s Symphony No2 in D major, a light piece that beautifully illustrates the composer’s link to Beethoven.

It’s not difficult to see why programmes work in such a manner, but it’s a shame that the Mendelssohn and Eberle were not the climax to the evening.


If June reminded me of just how good live music can be – this took it new heights. Utter bliss – and serious food for the spirit.

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