mon 27/09/2021

BBC Proms: Lazić, Lloyd Webber, BBC Philharmonic, Sinaisky | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Lazić, Lloyd Webber, BBC Philharmonic, Sinaisky

BBC Proms: Lazić, Lloyd Webber, BBC Philharmonic, Sinaisky

Swapping violin for piano in Brahms fails, but a Russian conductor excels in Elgar

Vassily Sinaisky: searching out delicate colour and arching line in ElgarChris Christodoulou

Several Prommers fainted, possibly out of boredom, in a longer than ever first movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The boredom, palpable around me, came not from pianist Dejan Lazić transcribing the fiddle part for his own pleasure - a communicative musician might have made us forget the original - but from the failure of Brahms's song to soar. Dyspeptic by half-time, I found everything awry: several obscure concert overtures would have worked better than Frank Bridge's Rebus, I'd have preferred many short cello-and-orchestra pieces to Holst's Invocation and thought any conductor might suit Elgar's Enigma Variations better than Vassily Sinaisky. Wrong, fortunately, on the last two counts.

Several Prommers fainted, possibly out of boredom, in a longer than ever first movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The boredom, palpable around me, came not from pianist Dejan Lazić transcribing the fiddle part for his own pleasure - a communicative musician might have made us forget the original - but from the failure of Brahms's song to soar. Dyspeptic by half-time, I found everything awry: several obscure concert overtures would have worked better than Frank Bridge's Rebus, I'd have preferred many short cello-and-orchestra pieces to Holst's Invocation and thought any conductor might suit Elgar's Enigma Variations better than Vassily Sinaisky. Wrong, fortunately, on the last two counts.

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The secret melody to Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations is 'Ein feste Burg' (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. This famous theme is quoted in the works of Elgar's favorite composers: J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, and Wagner. Elgar’s secret friend in Variation XIII (***) is not a lady, but a lord – the Lord – and his initials are represented by the Roman Numerals (X = J, III = C). There are various musical ciphers embedded in the Variations confirming the identities of both the hidden Principal Theme and the hidden Friend. To learn more about these intriguing discoveries, visit enigmathemeunmasked.blogspot.com

Well, that's one way of looking at it - but anyone who thinks he's in complete possession of The Truth needs to be circumspect...I believe we've heard from you before, Mr Padgett, and your hypotheses certainly add to the wealth of informed speculation. But hypotheses they remain, and need to be qualified with the ubiquitous 'I believe'. One of the most refreshing aspects of Sinaisky's very individual interpretation was that he presented it more as pure music than any other conductor I've listened to. Incidentally - or not - anyone know the five last words too terrible to reveal by, was it, W H Reed, as spoken by EE on his deathbed? My bet is it's nothing more scandalous than 'I never believed in God'.

I sincerely doubt David Nice's misinformed speculation that Elgar was a closeted atheist, particularly since the majority of Elgar's greatest musical works are inscribed with the initials A.M.D.G. Why someone would dedicate masterpiece after masterpiece to a deity he did not believe in defies the bounds of common sense. What is far more likely than Nice’s nebulous supposition is Elgar confessed to Reed the following five words: “My secret friend is Jesus.” This would go a long way towards explaining why shortly after his death Variation XIII was performed at Elgar’s memorial service. One of the many fetid fruits of England’s fading Christian faith, apart from an empty treasury and the streets of London going up in flames with rampaging mobs, is a collective failure to fully comprehend the works of one of that nation’s greatest composers. Then again, does not the scripture reveal a prophet is never accepted in his hometown?

It beggars belief why "my secret friend is Jesus" would be the 'short remark' Ernest Newman (for it was he, I checked) refused to reveal, clearly out of deference to what Elgar's daughter Carice called her father's confused mind on his deathbed, beggars belief. As, frankly, since you refuse to admit the 'in my opinion' clause, do your thoughts on Variation XIII. Your presentation of this as objective truth, not interesting speculation, is what truly 'defies the bounds of common sense'. And I personally find it offensive to equate our current woes with the decline of Christian faith.

David Nice is correct in pointing out Ernest Newman was the person Elgar spoke five short words to on his deathbed. It goes without saying my original research on the 'Enigma' Variations reflects my own opinion. Nice's contrived objection on this point is an obvious red herring. As for England's moral collapse, even David Cameron is now openly acknowledging the obvious. England is a morally dissolute nation that has failed to produce an intellect capable of penetrating the mysteries of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations precisely because Elgar was a devout Roman Catholic, a man of character and strict morals.

But Robert, I thought you were proposing yourself as that capable intellect? Perhaps you boast better antediluvian credentials than I, sad specimen of a 'morally dissolute nation' as I am. Please note, however, that this review never attempted to tackle the bigger question of the hidden meanings in 'Enigma', merely to propose an alternative source of quotation for Var. XIII. Do keep it up, anyway, this is such fun and I'm learning a lot.

David Nice is mistaken regarding the source of the musical quotations in Variation XIII, for Elgar's personal correspondence with his publisher confirms they are drawn from Mendelssohn’s concert overture ‘Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage.’ The marine atmosphere permeating this movement should make this point obvious, but David Nice’s contorted analysis suggests he has mastered the unfortunate talent of overlooking the obvious. The source of Mendelssohn fragment bears directly on the hidden meaning of the ‘Enigma’ Variations it serves as a critical clue concerning the identity of the covert Principal Theme. Elgar quotes four Mendelssohn’s overture four times to allude to the fact Mendelssohn quotes the covert Principal Theme in the fourth movement one of his symphonic works. Indeed, Mendelssohn quotes ‘Ein feste Burg’ (A Mighty Fortress) as a series of variations in the fourth movement of his first major symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony. A musical checkerboard cipher in the opening six measures of the ‘Enigma’ Theme confirms this discovery. You may learn more at enigmathemeunmasked.blogspot.com

At the risk of prolonging this rather pointless to-and-fro, Robert - and I'd rather hear from folk about the performance itself, about which you've said nothing - it was hardly a 'contorted analysis', just the fact that this particular interpretation made me think more of the Schumann. That, I know, has been posited as another 'hidden reference' with the Mendelssohn as a blind because of Alice's possible sensitivity to the former 'braut', Helen Weaver, and her connection with the Schumann Piano Concerto. The identity doesn't hugely interest me, but the evocation under special circumstances certainly does.

David Nice is correct in observing there is an allusion to the music of Schumann in Variation XIII, but not in the way he suspects. Three of the four Mendelssohn fragments are enclosed within quotations because like source melody they are in the major mode (two in A-flat major, and one in E-flat major). The fourth fragment is not in quotations because it veers into the minor mode (F minor), and it presented in an augmented version. The key letters for these fragments are F, A and E, a subtle reference to the famous F-A-E Sonata composed by Schumann, Brahms and Dietrich in honor of their friend, the great violinist Joseph Joachim. The composers used the initials for Joachim’s romantic motto ‘Frei aber einsam’ as the basis for the sonata’s enigmatic title. When it was presented to Joachim, he was playfully challenged to guess the composer of each of the movements. The translation for Joachim’s German motto is ‘Free but lonely’. It is remarkable Elgar said the Enigma Theme captured his ‘sense of the loneliness of the artist’. Was he hinting at this ingenious musical cryptogram in XIII, all but suggested by the three mysterious asterisks? More intriguingly, the two movements Schumann composed for the F-A-E Sonata are an Intermezzo and a Finale, the very same subtitles Elgar used for X and XIV of the ‘Enigma’ Variations. The sum of 10 plus 14 is 24, the same number of notes in the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme, and letters in the title ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’. Joachim’s motto is in the German language and the same holds true for the original title for Mendelssohn’s concert overture and Elgar’s nickname in the subtitle of Variation XIV. E.D.U. is derived from the German spelling of Edward, i.e., Eduard. All of these clues collectively point towards the fact the title of the covert Principal Theme is also in German. Moreover, the three Mendelssohn fragments enclosed within quotations suggest the mystery theme’s title is three words in length. Martin Luther’s most famous hymn is six words in length, but is commonly known by its three word title, ‘Ein feste Burg’ (A Mighty Fortress). There are twelve notes enclosed within those three Mendelssohn fragments, and likewise there are twelve letters in the three word title ‘Ein feste Burg’. That is a rather striking coincidence. To learn more about my 'informed speculations' on the ‘Enigma’ Variations, please visit my blog at enigmathemeunmasked.blogspot.com

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