Lalo, Berlioz

I finally decided to venture into the Tirana Palace of Culture for a concert this evening.  I think the last time I attended a concert in the Balkans, it was the Kosovo Philharmonic in Pristina’s dismal Red Hall, of which about all I could say was they knew how to hold their instruments.  Today with the Albanian Radio-Television Orchestra was certainly better.  The Palace of Culture, a depressing building, was also better.  But I was starved for live music, so I will go back.

The Palace of Culture was originally designed by Russian Communists, which is about all you need to know to understand the design concept.  However, after construction began, nasty Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha decided that the Russians were no longer nasty enough, so he broke relations and the Palace of Culture was never finished, and even today looks like it did in the 1950s but even more run down.  They’ve painted the inside red and black, so if they dimmed the lights I might have thought it was a large concrete brothel.  Fortunately they kept the house lights up.

The orchestra was actually better than I expected.  They do have proper music education in Albania, unlike in Kosovo, so people can be trained.  But since they do not really pay, anyone good goes abroad.  That said, the first chair woodwinds were OK.  The rest sounded like a warped 45 lp vinyl record.  Conductor Jetmir Babullushi was an animated sort.

The program was short, at a little over an hour without an intermission.  The first work was the world premiere of Albanian composer Aleksandër Lalo’s “Jealosy” – a poem for guitar, cello, and orchestra.  This was a tonal work of no particular interest and no discernible structure.  The soloists, Admir Doçi (guitar) and Aristidh Prosi (cello) played into microphones, which threw the whole balance off.  The piece was soon over.

For the main work, they chose the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.  The orchestra performed with more drama than talent, particularly when the hero got guillotined in the fourth movement.  At least everyone was smiling in the end, which meant that the atmosphere on leaving the concert was more pleasant than leaving a concert in Moscow, even if the music did not meet the standard.

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