Tuesday, 21 February 2012

So nice he sold out the Konzerthaus twice

Martin Grubinger (with the Wiener Philharmoniker)
Martin Grubinger may be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting percussion virtuosi, but for my money his greatest strengths are pianistic: the rich density of timbre he gets from his instruments (which are mainly the marimba and xylophone), the gift for turning an eloquent phrase, and the seamless legato that comes from sensitive touch and a finely-tuned ear for decay. His wife Ferzan and her twin sister Ferhan Önder share these qualities in their piano playing, turning graceful phrases while applying the minimum of weight.

This was no less than the fourth Martin Grubinger concert I’ve seen this season, so it was good to finally write something about him. Fourth because he’s a Pubiklumsliebling who has his own Abo at the Konzerthaus (which will continue next year), though I did see him make his debut with the Wiener Phiharmoniker at the Musikverein a few months ago. Work was really busy in the days after that, and as Grubinger was playing the new Cerha percussion concerto I didn’t want just to put down any old thoughts on paper. But I was impressed, and the Philharmoniker liked him, which perhaps isn’t as rare as I’m inclined to think, and really showed it, which probably is. This concert was a bit more mixed: the Önders weren’t overpowered too much in an otherwise excellent Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion, but if the best-intentioned effort – which this was – strips Le Sacre of so much, I’m not sure I ever want to hear another arrangement of it again. To the I-could-have-told-youzzz: having played and studied it, I get a lot out of Erwin Stein’s Mahler 4 transcription, OK? That there’s so much detail you don’t normally hear in an orchestral performance is a scary indictment of how poorly this symphony gets conducted nowadays. But this Grubinger Rite didn’t compensate for what it took away in colour and sonority with new insights. One thing I didn't mention was that ostinato accompaniments started too loudly and had nowhere to go, but if you click through to read the full review, you’ll see I thought it was all a bit cacophonous (which isn’t like Grubinger at all).

I’ve seen much strange behaviour from Grubinger’s female fans in Vienna (groupies aged 15 to 85) and this concert was no exception. Looking up from her programme before the Stravinsky, the elderly lady sat next to me saw that Grubinger was still readying his sticks and remarked ‘Der süße Junge spielt noch im Ställchen!’, which I smiled at wryly until she started licking her lips.

On a less disturbing note, I went to the afternoon performance the Konzerthaus added, which ended a few minutes before 18:00 (repeated at 19:30). The Stravinsky looked exhausting to play so I have no idea where they found the energy.

And lastly, check out Grubinger’s ‘Rudiments’ solo, so named because apparently Mozarteum percussion students have to learn these tricks (I think not). I saw him give this an as encore at the Phil concert, which an audience member put up on Youtube, though the A/V isn’t so great (also note EIGHT empty seats at a subscription concert). It must have come from the Sunday morning concert, because on Saturday afternoon he dropped a stick and carried on playing while he produced another from his back pocket. Here it is in better quality:


Image credit: Roland Schlager / APA

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