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Robert Taub’s inaugural Musica Viva live performance in Plymouth’s Levinsky Corridor – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United Kingdom Romantic Piano: Robert Taub (piano). Levinsky Corridor, College of Plymouth, 15.10.2022. (PRB)

Robert Taub © Philip R Buttall

Beethoven – Sonata in C minor, Op.13 Pathétique
Robert SchumannDavidsbündlertänze, Op.6
Chopin – Sonata in B minor, Op.58

American live performance pianist and tutorial Dr Robert Taub took over the function of Music Director of the College of Plymouth’s Arts Institute in Spring 2018. In simply over 4 years, and regardless of all of the trials and tribulations of the pandemic and its imposed lockdowns, he initiated the extremely acclaimed Musica Viva Live performance Sequence. This programme of live shows and related workshops involving fellow artists brings top-level performances and academic spin-offs to communities within the metropolis and its environs in Devon and Cornwall.

The undisputed house for Music Viva live shows and plenty of related recitals had been the Sherwell Centre. Initially original from Sherwell Church, it was reworked into a collection of lecture theatres by day. The higher one – which benefitted from retaining the church’s authentic roof, with all of the acoustic benefits this provided – doubled up as a bespoke venue for music of chamber proportions. Eminent British pianist John Lill, commissioned to pick an appropriate Steinway Grand Piano, settled on the very good Mannequin C.

The viability of this twin function has all the time tended to linger within the background considerably. Taub set about discovering an on-campus different. Previous to this inaugural live performance, he introduced that future live shows would happen within the newly named Levinsky Hal, beforehand Lecture Theatre One within the iconic eponymous constructing shut by. The area has been upgraded with new on-stage adjustable sound panels and related acoustic tweaks and might be a brand new house for the piano.

It has change into a practice in Musica Viva live shows that the efficiency is preceded by a half-hour casual chat with the performer(s). That’s of immense curiosity not solely to well-seasoned aficionados, however to first-time concertgoers, to whom the big scholar inhabitants contributes.

Taub completed his discuss, left the stage for some time to regroup, returned to the platform, took his compulsory bow, and was about to take a seat down and begin the extremely dramatic opening of Pathétique. He was instantly interrupted by a stentorian voice from the again of the auditorium asking him to cease. Apparently, the college had acquired a communication with the doubtless devastating information that the piano was harbouring some type of bomb. I’m certain that Taub, like the remainder of us current, thought that this may be some type of set-up. Taub requested whether or not the piano might be checked out first. In any case, there are few locations to cover something too apparent. His request was summarily denied, and, in strict accordance with college safety protocols, everybody needed to go away the constructing and assemble exterior – the place it had conveniently simply began to rain closely.

All credit score to the safety group on obligation: the ready viewers was ushered into a close-by constructing, whereas very important checks have been made elsewhere. Finally the all-clear was given, and the viewers was escorted again into the corridor to recommence the recital. It will definitely transpired that a teenager within the auditorium had despatched a presumably personal message a couple of bomb to a close-by good friend, however, with the wonders of Bluetooth, this was additionally acquired on quite a few related cellphones within the neighborhood, and that prompted the total evacuation protocol. My understanding is that the younger particular person had been ‘spoken to’ by the suitable authorities.

Some professionals justifiably may need felt unable to proceed – from the emotional standpoint (to say nothing of chilly palms). However Taub, significantly recognized for his Beethoven interpretations, is product of far sterner stuff. He clearly shares a few of the composer’s defiant nature, so not solely did he select to proceed the recital in full, however even completed with two vital encores, the second of which was Liszt’s immensely difficult La Campanella. In my ebook, that actually exhibits an excellent power of character, tenacity and the will to not disappoint the packed viewers.

Again on the piano, Taub had the extraordinarily demanding activity of starting the sluggish introduction to the Pathétique. It may be only a single chord, however Beethoven requires it to be performed fp (forte piano): commenced strongly then quickly dying right down to a smooth dynamic. At this juncture, it’s value commenting on Taub’s fascinating programme notes, the place, as within the above instance, he explains in nice element what results he’s aiming for, and precisely how he units out to attain them. That is actually enlightening even for the well-seasoned pianists within the viewers. However to do that in any case that had gone earlier than was a very magical second, because it got here off so completely. The remainder of the opening Allegro molto was by no means quick on drama and revealed a lot about Taub’s particular person tackle the motion.

Musicians will not be machines, and simply can’t be began up or turned off on demand; in the event that they have been, they’d not be value listening to. Beethoven himself properly summed this up: ‘to play a flawed word is insignificant; to play with out ardour is inexcusable!’ Bob Taub is a extremely delicate musician, and I’d be very stunned if the unlucky begin didn’t trigger some extent of post-traumatic stress, nonetheless little this may need been sensed within the efficiency.

Transferring on to the sluggish motion, Taub obtained the important stability between accompaniment and hovering lyrical melody on high excellent. His interpretation of the finale clearly bolstered his personal notion of the motion as extra restrained than tempestuous as is the opening Allegro molto.

In response to the programme word, Schumann wrote the next about his Davidsbündlertänze to his fiancée Clara Wieck: ‘[It] is to Carnaval as a face is to a masks.’ His arguably better-known Carnaval – a set of twenty-one quick character items – is, I really feel, extra instantly interesting than the eighteen items of Davidsbündlertänze that appeared two or so years later. The writing right here is very imaginative and private. I nearly really feel that it’d profit from a second taking part in, with the intention to tackle the psychological implications of every piece extra absolutely. Carnaval, however, all the time manages to enchantment on its very first encounter. However Taub’s scholarly and emotionally charged efficiency nonetheless introduced the eighteen miniatures very a lot to life.

It was now determined to increase the initially deliberate temporary interval by bringing ahead the after-concert reception, and so keep away from a late end. That made for one more prolonged break earlier than Taub might begin the night’s closing work, Chopin’s superb Sonata No.3 in B minor. The rating has the eminent magnificence and romanticism, however the kind during which Chopin casts every motion appears again extra to the Classical interval than forward to Liszt’s epic one-movement sonata that appeared some ten years or so later. Whereas every motion had its moments, for me the spotlight was the sluggish Largo, the place I felt that Taub was completely at one with the spirit and high-octane emotional content material of Chopin’s writing: some ten minutes of pure Romanticism, on the coronary heart of the composer’s remaining piano sonata.

I want to touch upon the Steinway Mannequin C’s relocation to the Levinsky Constructing. I obtained a superb view of the instrument, and I used to be in prime place to understand the sound. However for the primary time ever the instrument sounded to me vaguely under-powered. It gave the impression to be struggling to supply the standard of tone, dynamic nuances and vary that I had all the time appreciated from an analogous vantage level in its former location. There may be solely a distinction of some 47 cm or 18½ inches between the Mannequin C and the full-size Mannequin D live performance grand, however on this event dimension actually appeared to matter.

This was the primary occasion within the corridor the place acoustic panels and different tweaks have been built-in. There must be a interval of fine-tuning and adjustment, particularly when the corridor is full and the viewers is dressed for late autumn. Certainly, initially of the pre-recital discuss, a member of the viewers seated in the direction of the again of the corridor felt the necessity to name out to Taub to please converse up. It’s simple to know the frustration, significantly when quick excerpts are performed by the use of clarification, however I felt there was a case for some type of sound reinforcement for speech – particularly when the subject material was so attention-grabbing and informative. This live performance was the primary of its variety on the new venue, with its ‘new’ piano and acoustic equipment. I’m certain that there might be tweaking and readjustment earlier than the second occasion subsequent month, which provides a violin to the combination.

For the second I’ll shut with a quote from Robert Taub: ‘Romantic Music speaks to our souls – eternally, instantly’. No matter hurdles and hindrances there may need been at this opening live performance of Romantic Music, Taub’s phrases have been as apposite as ever.

Philip R Buttall



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