|Ryan Wigglesworth (courtesy Groves Artists)|
For his publishers, Schott, Wigglesworth describes his Piano Concerto. Please read the link for more. "The opening Arioso pits quiet, obsessive rhythmic figures against the piano’s brief chorale-like utterances. The argument becomes more contrapuntally involved, reaching a tentative climax, before dissolving back into the hazy mood of the beginning". My response, probably coloured by listening to Mozart (always a balm in times of political insanity), was to pick up on the sense of tension between classical elegance and nervousness : fast paced, jerky piano lines, almost en pointe (to borrow an idea from ballet). In the Scherzo, "the piano weaves an insistent pattern of quick, cascading figures, oblivious to the short, sharp attacks of the orchestra". The piano seems to taunt the orchestra, who respond in kind before winding down to dream-like stillness. From this the Notturno emerges, as if released by the unconscious. It's simple but intensely evocative - piano, strings and harp - the melody based on Polish folk song, which Wigglesworth heard his sister-in-law singing, quietly, at night. A timeless moment, transcending national borders, the piano and harp becoming partners, in contrast to the rivalry that went before. in the finale, "A brief battle between piano and orchestra is initially won by the latter, only for the piano to launch into an explosive cadenza. This traverses the movement’s two main themes before a crash from the orchestra freezes the music into a short recollection of the Arioso chorale. The piano, left alone, wanders to the concerto’s close." The soloist here was Marc-André Hamelin.
Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss was fashionably maligned in its time, not least thanks to Diaghilev's disdain for Ida Rubenstein, for whom it was commissioned, a celebrity but as a dancer nowhere near the standard of the Ballets Russe. It also didn't help that it was choreographed by Bronislava Nijinsky, who had followed her brother away from Diaghilev circles. Part of the Fairy's Kiss "problem" is the plot of the ballet, or lack thereof, but for Stravinsky himself it was "an allegory of a man marked out from his fellows, unable to join in their life" : the role of an artist, whose destiny is to fulfil his gift, even if it means being alone. In 1928, that ideal was
pertinent to Stravinky, living in exile, surrounded by change. In Tchaikovsky, he saw a quintessential outsider, forced to hide his true identity in a society where being out meant death. In musical terms, this applied too to Stravinsky, not because he was reverting to Tchaikovsky, but because he didn't want to be constrained by style, or by market forces. It's perhaps ironic that chreographers - Balanchine, Ashton, Macmillan, Ratmansky - have found more in the music than many listeners.
Rustling strings suggested the snowstorm in which the story begins, but typically Stravinskian winds delineated the narrative, leading onwards, then pausing tenderly. Perhaps one might imagine a vulnerable infant who might otherwise die. The pace picked up, winds and brass joining. Lively dotted rhythms, ideal for dancing to, outbursts of bassoon, flute and brass suggested a wild but cheerful procession, the horns adding a "peasant" touch. The baby grows up happily enough in the village, as the music suggests, but on the eve of his marriage the fairy returns, disguised as a gypsy. Tchaikovsky, who entered a marriage blanc, may or may not have intuited Hans Christian Anderson's dilemmas about sexuality, but for Stravinsky, this turning point seems more artistic than literal. The music abounds with lively figures, ideal for dancing to, offering a choreographer many inventive opportunities. A single violin appeared, then a woodwind : two figures, one seductive, once youthful. Eventually, a hush fell over the music, suggesting mystery. Perhaps the boy is enchanted, as the Fairy claims him for her own. Not such a bad fate, for an artist. I have a weakness for Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss, a favourite of Vladimir Jurowski, who's done it many times, so I got a lot out of Wigglesworth and the Britten Sinfonietta, whose more chamber focus added to the sense of magic.
In the context of this Prom, Mozart's Concerto in E flat major for two pianos fitted in very well. Two soloists - Marc-André Hamelin and Ryan Wigglesworth - communicating with the orchestra. Not a foretaste of the Notturno in Wigglesworth's Piano Concerto, but thoughtfully connected. Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4, 'Mozartiana' continued the concept, which also infuses Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss.