‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable’
– T.S Eliot
Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor was the first piece played by harpsichord maestro Mahan Esfahani and the Russian Virtuosi of Europe Orchestra in the Eastern Seasons Festival at the Royal Overseas League. The musicians played with a profundity directed towards the deeper notes coming from the celli and double bass, and with a higher plucking from the violins and violas that was suave – a perfection that brought to mind the opulent royal courts of the eighteenth century. Esfahani’s harpischord was easily the highlight of the evening, giving the conventional Baroque a ‘special something’ – strangely dark in its very luminosity. It took its turn undulating, seemingly on its own, as though possessing Esfahani rather than being possessed by him, and the ghostlike pause it left behind after its moment of glory was punctuated by a chorus of life-breathing violins and violas. ‘The harpsichord is not an old instrument – it is a different instrument’, Esfahani remarked to the audience.
Henryk Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto op. 40 was suspenseful – Eastern Seasons was an apt title here, as was the phrase ‘expect the unexpected’. The violins and violas provided a lift, an elevation, which gave the music an arc-like quality, and Esfahani’s harpischord contributed to this. Where there might have been a fuller pounding effect there was instead a metallic tendency. This could have been the cause of over-reliance on the violin family: it would perhaps have been nice to have heard more from the bass. However, the piece was met with applause and even whooping – ‘bravo!’
Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances gave a feeling of imperial plenitude: the symphony offered both a mountain crispness and the sentiment of the sea. Quickly the melody shifted to a prancing rhythm resembling the zigzag of a deer – particularly when the melody hollowed out into a sharp sadness on the concentrated violin, as one felt the hunter had caught sight of her through the trees. The image went up in smoke, as each instrument played its part, growing louder and more intense. There was again some squeaking, which more assistance from the bass could have tempered – as well as adding a unitary roundness. But still, the movement of the violinists’ wands mimicked the back and forth of the deer sprinting through the woods.
The final piece of the evening was Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, inevitably bringing Forster’s A Room with a View to mind. Soloists Yuri Zhislin (also conductor), Natalia Lomeiko, Beatrice Muthelet, Gregoria’s Aronovich, Alexis Sarkissov, and Adi Tal worked together to create a graceful buoyancy, a music so complete that there was something effervescent about it – reminiscent of Champagne from late 19th century Florence. It held in it the note of tragedy that characterizes fine art: a paradox of music masterfully restrained, yet at the same time disinhibited, and most of all uncontrollable. The low, full notes filled the walls to their brim. As the culmination approached, it became even more evident what a complex, multi-faceted piece of jubilance and melancholy Tchaikovsky had created. The pace quickened; the musicians steeled themselves as soldiers preparing to shoot a cannon… and the concert ended with a ceremonious boom.
Time Regained: From Baroque to Contemporary was part of Eastern Seasons – an ‘Annual week of cultural, sports and business events in London’ – running from 28 November to 5 December 2016.