Adelaide Festival. Adelaide Town Hall. 8 Mar 2017
What’s in a name? What does La Gaia Scienza actually mean, and is it significant that a musical ensemble should name itself thus? It probably doesn’t matter to the actual music making, but the name possibly gives us an insight into why this particular ensemble is special.
La Gaia Scienza is the title of a book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in which he explores, amongst other things, the idea that God – however one conceives of him, her or it – is, or should no longer be, the source of meaning or moral compass. ‘La gaia scienza’ also alludes to a phrase that has been used to typify aspects of the Provençal lifestyle from times gone by that nurtured a quest for excellence in the arts grounded in the seeming opposites of discipline and free spirit.
In a one-off concert, La Gaia Scienza presented a piano trio (Op.8, but the 1889 version) and a piano quartet (Op.60) by Brahms, and two shorter compositions by Schubert.
Opening with Schubert’s Notturno in E flat (D.897) immediately raised the audience’s expectations. This is an exquisitely melodic and moving composition, and is well known by lovers of chamber music even though it is not played enough on the concert platform. Performed on historic instruments, La Gaia Scienza got to the visceral heart of the piece and never erred on the side of oversentimentality. This was largely due to restrained use of vibrato on the violin (Stefanoa Barneschi) and cello (Paolo Beschi), and judicious pedaling on the piano (Federica Valli).
The applause from the audience after the Notturno was heartfelt and urged the ensemble to scale even greater heights of musicality, which they did in the two Brahms compositions.
Schubert’s String Trio in B flat (D.471) introduced Ernest Braucher on viola as the fourth member of the ensemble. It is an annoying piece: it is beautifully melodic and song like, which is exactly what we expect from Schubert, but it is too short and is an example of another piece by Schubert that was destined to part of something bigger but was never finished.
The inner movements of both the trio and quartet were sublimely handled. In the final movement of the quartet, absolute precision was momentarily surrendered on a few brief occasions to the raw emotion inherent in the piece, but this is what I think La Gaia Scienza is really about. When they make music, when they are deeply immersed in performance, strict discipline is only a means to an end, and that end is freedom of expression that comes only from profound understanding of what is written on the page.
This concert was an example of outstanding programming by the Festival’s directors, and the large and exuberant audience whooped and wolf-whistled their approval.
When: 8 Mar 2017
Where: Adelaide Town Hall