Up betimes and on the 10 a.m. Southern Rail Eastbourne to London Victoria. Not too crowded. Unusually the on-board toilet had been recently cleaned though (as ever) there was no water to wash one's hands, nor air in the dryer to dry them. On time into the terminus at around 11.30 a.m. To the newly opened up Royal Opera House for a lunchtime recital at which I was joined by my artistic friend the Barocci of Bow. We were both very impressed with the changes at "the House". There is a spacious ground floor foyer with a cafe serving a limited selection of light snacks, both savoury and sweet, coffee and wine. Beware the small but tempting "ladies who lunch" sized platters (for small ladies who wish to remain so) at around £8 a pop. There are additional bars on the now partially enclosed amphitheatre level terrace, and in the Linbury Theatre foyer.
The concert in the new "Live at Lunch" series was downstairs in the Linbury Foyer (get there early as seating was limited). We were well entertained for about 50 minutes by Llubov Ulybysheva ('cello) - known as Luba - and James Kreiling (piano). Luba tells me she has recently become a permanent member of the Royal Opera House orchestra, having played for them for the past five years when needed. Born in Russia, she commutes regularly between her home country and Britain, playing as a soloist with leading orchestras and taking part in chamber music. James, who met Luba at the Guildhall School of Music, is particularly proud of his recordings of Scriabin's late piano music but has had a varied concert career playing a wide range of composers both classical (Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, Schumann) and modern (Thomas Ades, David Matthews).
The major part of their all Russian programme was the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata from 1901 written soon after his recovery from depression and following his successful second piano concerto. It is a similarly confident work and as you might expect from a great pianist (he played in the first performance) the piano and 'cello are written to be very much equal partners. This was certainly the case here. The first movement was boldly and clearly attacked, the second suitably dark and stormy. The third was more melancholy, while the finale was a quieter and lighter. A mood of resolution was discernable. Is it too much to suggest that the piece reflects the stages of the composers recent illness? I suspect not. A great work given bold but very sympathetic treatment. A wistful adagio by Shostakovich was the perfect bonne bouche, or whatever the Russian equivalent is, with which to finish. If this is to be the standard of the Opera House's lunchtime entertainment they are not to be missed. And for free too.(****)
On to the National Gallery for their Mantegna and Bellini Exhibition.(****) First a confession. Your Man isn't normally a great lover of Renaissance art. (More the B of B's kind of thing). I've seen a lot of course, both in the world's great galleries, and indeed in churches in Europe. I think the trouble is I've not got the knowledge of the techniques used and the historical context to enable me to tell the great from the merely good and indeed where a particular work fits into the pattern of development.. That being said, I found this show to be very instructive. It's worth reading reviews before you go. They explain the context of Andrea Mantegna, the talented carpenter's son from Padua marrying into the Bellini family, the great Venetian art dynasty. But don't be put off by Jonathan Jones' Guardian review which accuses the exhibition of being overly academic. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here without a PhD", he says. In fact the labels are very helpful. Watch the short film before you enter and you should have no problem understanding the artistic relationship between Mantegna and his younger (by about 4 years) brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini. Given that they often painted the same biblical scene it soon becomes clear both how their styles differed (Mantegna the more structured and rigid, Bellini more free flowing and less detailed) and how they learned from each other. "Which was the greater artist?" seems the question that occupies the critics - a hard question and not one where you would want to rely on my self-confessedly limited view. For what it's worth I think Bellini, with his later adoption of oils over egg tempera, eventually shades it, but, as Wellington apparently didn't put it about a completely different matter, it's a "damn close-run thing".