MEMBERS’ WEEKEND 2008, PENDRELL HALL
DANCES, PRELUDES, AND COUNTRY WALKS
By Daniel Dumanescu, Rachmaninoff Society Member
Since this was my first meeting with other members, I didn’t really know what to expect. So there I was, standing at the Wolverhampton St. Georges Metro station, waiting for a fellow Society member to pick me up. “Come on”, I found myself thinking while scanning the cars coming around the corner, “after all we’re a bunch of people driven by the same passion. It will just be fine…”
I finally spotted the right car and, after just a few moments, I felt I was among friends. With a little bit of help from my nearly discharged GPS we got to Pendrell Hall, just in time for dinner. I soon found myself in a group of people where everyone knew almost everything the others were talking about. By the end of dinner I felt I was just starting to make my way in the “family”. The brief AGM that followed made me familiar with the administrative structure of the Society. After that, around a glass of wine, I got to know more people and, I felt more and more comfortable with everything going on there.
The big day was still to come, so I went to bed with all sorts of thoughts crossing through my mind. How was it going to be?
The atmosphere in the morning was awesome. Around 8 o’clock, a magic mist that was still enveloping the surroundings was making me feel like I was in another world. Great things were expected to happen…
After breakfast, we met in groups, analysing the present situation of the Society and brainstorming for ideas to widen its horizons. It was a constructive meeting, the conclusions of which were going to be shared the next day with the other groups.
Above: the 'class of 2008' outside Pendrell Hall (photo: Daniel Dumanescu).
After a short break, we re-assembled to hear Ian Flint’s analysis of the Third Movement of the Symphonic Dances. Ian started out, surprisingly, with an excerpt not from the Dances, but from the First Symphony, from which he led us to Rachmaninoff’s last masterpiece. After certain aspects of the structure of the work had been revealed to us, by way of Ian’s well chosen piano illustrations, I felt enlightened. Ian obviously put a lot of passion in his research and analysis, and in a very professional way so, in the end, we felt that more secrets doors of this work were now opened for us.
Lunch was another great opportunity for socialising and sharing opinions. If good food and a full stomach are supposed to slow down the brain for a little while, Membership Secretary Charles MacAllister challenged us in these difficult moments of recovery with a musical quiz. Had it been a real exam, I must admit I would have successfully failed it. Many of us learned from this experience, and I suppose that, in fact, this is what the quiz was all about.
After that, long-standing member Brian Cresswell brought the focus onto the Preludes Op. 23, stressing their originality, inventiveness and expressive force. I myself rediscovered the joy of listening to these unjustly neglected (OK, apart from no. 2…) musical pearls. Considering the passion that Brian obviously put into his presentation, one couldn’t remain insensible to his warm pleading.
Just before dinner, the auction of donated items fuelled the spirit of competition once again. It was really fun and, moreover, a very welcome support to the Society’s funds.
During dinner we could hear young pianist and composer Carson Becke rehearsing for his recital so, even our earthly hunger was successfully extinguished, the hunger for music was at its peak. Carson started out brilliantly wit Scriabin’s Sonata no. 3 op. 23. Then he offered us some of the most challenging Etudes–tableaux (op. 33 no. 2, op. 39 nos. 1 and 8) and Preludes (op. 32 nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 12 and 13), followed by a very delicately played Scriabin piece as an encore.
Left: Carson Becke (photo: Wouter de Voogd)
After Carson’s powerful recital, Piet Bal’s comic moment was a welcome breather. The stoniest couldn’t have remained serious listening to his word play and musical jokes. For instance, I felt ashamed for never having heard of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sinatra… an astounding little piece of classical music!...
Afterwards most of us went to the lounge and had a drink, with some remaining in the music room. I could hear them playing with the piano until suddenly I realized they were not playing with the piano any more, but playing the piano for good. So I quickly returned there to listen Brian playing a Prelude.
This was just the beginning of what Chairman Wouter de Voogd called the next day the “Rachmaninoff extravaganza”. We soon had four members playing together. Then fellow member Graham Lloyd sat at the piano and played one of the Preludes and returned with an explosive exposition of the main theme of the third movement of the Fourth Concerto!
It didn’t take long until someone came with two scores of the two piano version of the Second Concerto. So we suddenly had Ian Flint playing the solo part with Piet Bal accompanying (well, mostly). “What’s going on in there?” a question came from the lounge. The answer from inside the music room was: “Well, they’re kind of massacring the Second Concerto, but the overall harmonic structure is there…” So they finished the first movement and, since the public didn’t allow them to leave, they had to take on the second movement and, then the third, by which time it was Graham’s turn to take the solo part with Ian accompanying.
It was about 23:00 and the beginning of a two men show for a more limited audience. We had many Preludes both from op. 23 and op. 32, excerpts from the Chopin variations op. 22 (with accompanying discussions), the solo piano part in the second movement of the First Concerto, part of the first movement cadenza and the small piano cadenza from the third movement of the same work… If this was not enough, Ian gave an explosive rendition of the 3rd Symphonic Dance he had presented earlier, drawing from both piano parts! Though exhausted after this performance, he later returned to the Dances, playing the devastating beautiful theme in the middle of the first movement.
Then, at around 00:30, Ian announced that he felt like playing a Bach – Busoni transcription… which he did, with much sensibility. Probably recalling of a small discussion we had before lunch, Graham suddenly attacked the final of “A-oo” (op. 38 no. 6) – this was in order not to forget that Rachmaninoff’s songs also have unbelievable piano parts.
After some impromptu opera singing, the “extravaganza” finally came to an end at about 1:00am. There were 5 of us left.
Three of us then decided the night was too beautiful to go directly to bed. So we took a 40 minutes walk along a country road. And, after that, we eventually went to bed. I’ll let you guess what I dreamed of…
Over breakfast, we regaled those unfortunates who had not stayed up (as well as those fortunate enough to have been allocated rooms away from the music room) with an account the previous night’s music-making prowess. Then we all met again to draw the conclusions of the Saturday morning group discussions.
The day continued with Anne McLean’s analysis of the Prelude in E flat major op. 23 no. 6 and of the wild Etude-tableau in D major op. 39 no. 9, an analysis which opened our eyes to yet other subtle ways in which Rachmaninoff put his feelings into his music. The other two members of the McLean family, Hugh and Olivia, offered us three of Rachmaninoff’s songs, thus reminding us of this side of the maestro’s creativity. Olivia’s performance was bright and enjoyable.
John Lockyer concluded the official programme by presenting three early Rachmaninoff works: the Youth Symphony, Prince Rostislav Symphonic Poem and the Caprice Bohemien op. 12. So in the end, during the weekend, we had a whole arch over Rachmaninoff’s music.
After lunch there suddenly came the sad moment of good-byes and of leaving a place where I hope we shall all return in the near future!
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