The concert was titled “The Unknown Chamber Music of Nino Rota”. How could I resist, being already a fan of Rota’s film compositions? This is the man who gave us the iconic Godfather music. My favourite is his score for Amarcord, one of my favourite films.
But it wasn’t at all as I expected.
The first half of the concert was ostensibly what brought the audience, namely the chance to hear Rota’s chamber music:
• “Intermezzo” (1945) performed by Theresa Rudolph (viola) & Mary Kenedi (piano)
• “Sonata” in D Major (1945) performed by Goran Gojevic (clarinet) & Mary Kenedi, (piano)
• “Trio” (1973) performed by Amy Laing (cello), Goran Gojevic (clarinet) & Mary Kenedi, (piano)
I feel with the recent conversations about the COC’s commission of a composer known less for cutting edge composition (indeed by conservatory standards, he’s a non-starter) than tunefulness and sensitivity, I must observe that if you come to Rota as a musicologist you’ll miss everything. A musicologist might observe that none of these pieces is adventurous or ground-breaking compositions, as though newness & invention are all that matter. In 1945 Bartok passed away, after writing his “Concerto for Orchestra”, an all-encompassing project that seemed to hold his illness at bay, putting it temporarily into remission.
Here’s a quote from Federico Fellini concerning Nino Rota:
“He was someone who had a rare quality belonging to the world of intuition. Just like children, simple men, sensitive people, innocent people, he would suddenly say dazzling things. As soon as he arrived, stress disappeared, everything turned into a festive atmosphere; the movie entered a joyful, serene, fantastic period, a new life.”
And so with these charming compositions.
Rudolph’s viola in the “Intermezzo” started the concert with soul, a strong opening statement of passionate melody. I suppose it was partly the acoustics in the Glenn Gould Studio, but for a moment I did a double-take as though Rudolph had put a cello up on her shoulder: because her sound was so full & unaccountably gorgeous. Rota’s composition was a simple & direct appeal to the emotions.
Gojevic has a marvellously clean sound, embodying the clarinet’s voice as the orchestra’s natural comedian, clearly articulating every witty phrase. Laing’s cello was a contrast, offering a counter-balance, as though Rota meant for the cello to be a passionate soul rebutting the wacky clarinet.
And yet, pleasant as Rota is, I was lulled mostly by the sweet sounds.
The second half was something else again, possibly due to allegiances. Pianist Mary Kenedi? Like me she’s Hungarian. In fact a very long time ago she was my first piano teacher. I hope that dual confession won’t invalidate anything I’m about to say.
Within sixty seconds in the second half, I had been taken to a new place, as though spirited away with the help of a transcription for piano from Kodaly’s Hary Janos. .
What was different? Where the first half was a series of collaborative pieces –each one anchored by Kenedi— this time we were hearing solos. This time we were hearing the music of Kenedi’s Motherland. No I can’t be objective –as a fellow Magyar—but Kenedi has a special authenticity to her playing, having studied in Hungary. This music speaks directly from within her.
Kennedi’s Kodaly reminded me of a cross between Gershwin & Stravinsky, whether for the bi-tonal passages, the occasional use of notes we’d hear in the blues, or for insistent dance rhythms in the left hand. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know the “Dances of Marosszek” that followed, this time music written expressly for piano rather than transcribed. HERE’s an example to give you an idea of what marvellous music this is (sorry there’s no clip of Kenedi playing this)
The next segment – 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs by Bartok—was rather powerful. I watched a young boy (perhaps eight or nine years old?) who’d come with his mom (I would assume), who sat directly in front of me, and had been sitting with an ipad before the concert. But during the Bartok? his hand pulsed in front of his face, almost as though he was having a wii fight with an invisible opponent who came into focus with the help of Bartok & Kenedi’s precise playing. I was also bouncing in my seat, captivated by the infectious rhythm.
Kenedi is known as a champion of her music –Hungarian music—just as so many others in this city show off their ethnicity as though it were a calling card. Not so long ago I wrote about Beatriz Boizán and Cuban piano music, Michele Bogdanowicz singing Chopin transcribed for the voice, just to mention the two most recent examples.
And Kenedi also champions new music written by Canadians. After a half-concert devoted to Rota and a strong display of Hungarian music, she came to the final two pieces on the program.
The first of these –and possibly the most impressive piece on the entire program—was Jack Behrens’ 1979 “Hommage a Chopin”, a conceptual item juxtaposing the left hand of Chopin’s “Berceuse” and passages from several other compositions in the right hand, including at least two in D-flat (such as the theme from the “rain-drop” prelude), but several that were jarringly not in that key. Kenedi closed with a more conventionally virtuosic piece by Marjan Mozetich.