Saturday, 16 April 2016

The internal limit of all thinking…


The problem with ineffability is that it is hard to express. Okay, I admit that this is the great-grandfather of all terrible wordplay… – but, reading back my review of Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s riveting performance – and then the score – of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto made me realize that me being glued to my chair (figuratively – just about) throughout, awestruck, had meant that some sensations could only be conjured up, magicked into words, much, much later: when my heart and mind had managed to process the wonder of it all. (On the night, all I could say to her was a reticent “beautiful”, accompanied by a sputtered thank-you. I was truly ‘beyond’ words.)

To be blunt, firstly, I wimped out…

Waley-Cohen brings both ferocious intelligence and emotion to the stage. The first movement, in particular, was one of great contrast: with both incredible power and gauze-like delicacy on display. In the Andante, she then demonstrated a lyrical sensibility second to none. Her communication with – and obvious admiration of – the orchestra came into its own, though, in the final Allegro vivacissimo. Her rapport with Curtis was also quite staggering.
     Her maturity is never in doubt…. She is never afraid to play quietly: knowing that the orchestra’s large numbers are no indication of its transcendent accompanying subtlety. She is also willing to become an integral part of their limpid texture – an equal member – when necessary; and the joy she displayed – inbetween all that praiseworthy fireworks and tracery – when observing them at work, I believe demonstrates both generosity and a keen appreciation of their skills.
     Thus a work I had never really admired before now spoke volumes: its flow insinuating itself deep within me. This was a great, very special, utterly exceptional performance. And the rapturous reception said so much more than any of my words ever can.

…and, secondly, my only later addition (to that chunk of missing-the-mark assessment) was a limerick (and that of only average quality…) –

A keen fiddler called Waley-Cohen
Gleaned reviews that were always most glowin’ –
With technique confounding
And emotion astounding,
She’s really fantastic at bowin’!

…which, I think, shows just how much I struggled with the awareness that I had witnessed some sort of rare phenomenon but was unable to translate it into common language (a challenge most reviewers face, I know). As the conductor David Curtis so rightfully said – on the Orchestra of the Swan’s new blog

Yesterday was amazing, I felt really privileged to be standing next to Tamsin…

…and I too felt honoured both to witness her commitment during the rehearsal; and then her stunning assurance and devotion during the concert itself, and at such close quarters. But I did (do?) not have the vocabulary to render it concrete.


Now, though, four days later, I close my eyes, and three particular captivating instances instantly spring to mind. Firstly – a reverberation, a timbre… – that almost growling G string entrance in the first movement; followed by a beautiful, explorative, lark-like ascent… – a thoughtful, restrained announcement of intent: not so much barging in through an open door, as gently pushing it ajar, having checked that no-one else was in the way. How she crammed so much emotion into so few notes is beyond me.

Secondly – a vision… – the bracing, emphatic, triple- and quadruple-stopping that proclaims the commencement of the cadenza. It is evidence of the craftsmanship of “the Italian family Stradivari” that her magnificent violin survives such powerful down-strokes with ease, and only sang in pleasure (not howled in pain), 295 years into its long life. It is also an exemplification of Waley-Cohen’s immense strength, proficiency and agility.

Finally – a blend of sound and sight… – her left-hand sliding down the strings toward the neck, pressing hard into the the fingerboard, in a chromatic, stopped descent of quite startling power and accuracy. Somehow, even though I have the evidence replaying in my head, it still seems quite baffling that this should be possible – let alone made to appear relatively matter-of-fact….


Then I return to the score: and much of her playing is resurrected in my mind. The sweetness of the main theme in the first movement: the vocalization transmuting into flashes of anger, before returning to that earthy bottom string and a recapitulation of Tchaikovsky’s honeyed melody. The customary trill at the end of the cadenza forming a sparkling bridge between her and Curtis: a mute, acknowledged signal for the orchestra to rejoin her journey. Her range – of dynamic, of tone, of mood – seeming infinite: everything from that romantic succulence and plaintive, ruminative lyricism; through delicate, lighthearted staccatos; thoughtful grace-notes, and joyful arpeggios; to angst and soaring passion.

In the Canzonette, there is more of that singing (of course); considered, subtle moments of rubato – and maximum immersion in the instruction to perform molto espressivo. This is a serenade of aching, yearning beauty… – nuance, where others may be tempted into extravagance.

And then the Finale explodes; and she enters, this time, with gusto – now booting that selfsame door wide open! Even the strummed pizzicato chords have an air of menace (interpolated, again, with that dark, rasping G string). Each entry of the orchestra – as a result of that “quite staggering rapport with Curtis” – is as crisp and cleansing as a spring snowstorm; and there is unashamed radiant delight at the cellos’ rumbustious, extremely Russian-sounding (almost raunchy) procession of fifths, which she responds to with true concomitant grit. All tempo changes are handled deftly; and synchronized perfectly with Curtis and the orchestra.

And a final memory: after the horns blare out the main subject towards the end, some of the most tender harmonics (perfectly spherical – rather than the spikiness one can sometimes hear…) – yet another example of her inconspicuous technique.


How do you capture this combination of music, movement, magic, majesty – and mystery – with dumb fingers and dull rumination? Can you ever really represent the paradise you experienced – in all its multidimensionality – on the page, so that others can grasp it? It’s easy to say “you had to be there”; or “you’ll see what I mean, next time”; but, when so many such encounters are so especial, how do you mark this particular one out as that rare, transcendent, ultimate, unsurpassable, incomparable, ineffable ‘happening’?

I don’t know the answer. My only response is to keep trying….

The music is over;
     the notes linger on.
The memories are formed;
     but the moment has gone.


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