31 May 2017

Duo UNRUH in the Spiegelsaal

Berlin has plenty of offerings when it comes to classical music. There are plenty of venues, including the Philharmonie in the Kulturforum which can house large acts, as well as old bombed-out rooms like the Spiegelsaal which is perfect for chamber music. In this venue, we saw last month Dina Bolshakova and Katharina Polivaeva, also known as the Duo UNRUH, on cello and piano, respectively. They had a concert featuring Arvo Pärt, Martin Torp, Maurice Ravel, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

We got a seat right behind the piano, and we can therefore follow the pianist as the sheet music was relatively close to us. I thought that was rather neat.

They started with Ravel's Deux Mélodies hébraïques. This piece was originally for voice and piano, but the two of them took it upon themselves to break down the piece into a rendition for cello and piano. I am not sure whether I liked it or not. They followed that with Torp's Sonata, and Torp actually was there in the audience. I must say that even though I liked the performance, I am not a big fan of the music. I thought it was an attempt at neo-classicism, and I was expecting something more radical and exciting given that the composer is still alive. Aside from the extended glissando in the cello, I thought it was rather old-school and not really captivating given my taste.

Pärt's Fratres ended the first half of the concert, and this was a good rendition. I am not too familiar with Pärt's music, but I must say I liked what I heard. In the second half, Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel was on the program, but it was originally written as the first of the two pieces for the second half. However, they performed it as the second of the two pieces, and perhaps there were so many people who don't know the piece, and so they just sat there and clapped. It was a little bizarre. More on that later. Anyway, I must say I wasn't a big fan of their rendition of Spiegel im Spiegel, primarily because I thought they played it too fast. It is such a simple yet majestic piece, something that has the ability to move anyone who would be listening to it, but that night they played it too fast and I thought the whole rendition was just deflated.

Anyway, the other piece they played was Shostakovich's Sonata in D minor. It had four movements, and was listed as the second of the two pieces to be played in the second half, however, they began the second half with it, so people were confused. After the first movement, people clapped. It was slightly annoying, but then again, not everyone knows the conventions of classical music. I must say they did a good job with this. The piece was very technically challenging, and there were times when the sheet music was too long and the pianist had no time to turn it. She had to stop playing, but nevertheless, she picked it up again smoothly. Definitely it shows good training.

It wasn't the most perfect performance, but then again, they do it better than me, so I won't complain. And what I appreciate the most when it comes to this venue is that it is intimate, and doesn't have the pressure of the big stage. I was practically just two meters away from the performers, and in intimate settings like these, little performance mistakes are easier overlooked.

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