Sunday, March 3, 2013
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
The pomp and pageantry of Imperial Russia was centered in Saint Petersburg, which saw the premieres of both Glinka’s overture, the earliest Russian work performed today, and Tchaikovsky’s passionate Fifth Symphony, a summit of Slavic music. Dvořák’s tuneful Violin Concerto will feature Romanian-born Irina Muresanu.
- Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
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Friday, March 1, 2013 at 1:30 PM
North Shore Retirement Hotel
1611 Chicago Ave., Evanston
by David Ellis
OVERTURE TO RUSSLAN AND LUDMILLA
Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857)
Mikhail Glinka is commonly referred to as “the father of Russian music.” However, the eminent musicologist Richard Taruskin has pointed out differences in the interpretation of Glinka’s achievement:
“…the Western view that regards him as the first authentically national Russian composer versus the native view that sees him as the first universal genius of music to have come from Russia - is a critical one.”
Whether he was truly a universal genius, Glinka’s first opera, A Life for the Tsar (1836), was definitely the first Russian opera to dispense with spoken dialogue in favor of music throughout. And Tchaikovsky believed that the Russian symphonic school was all descended from Glinka’s Kamarinskaya “just as the whole oak is in the acorn.” Unfortunately, Glinka’s character was of no particular distinction; in reviewing the first English language biography Professor Taruskin concludes that “Glinka’s life, except as it relates directly to his work, is not worth reading about.”
Russlan and Ludmilla was Glinka’s second
opera, completed in 1842. The five minute overture is the
earliest Russian work still part of the standard symphonic
repertoire. Its brisk opening theme is a perfect opening for
either the opera or a symphony concert, and the lyrical second
theme highlights the cello section. However, the most striking
orchestral part is that for the timpani, which ushers in both
the recapitulation and the coda (this overture is in the same
sonata form as heard in a Mozart or Haydn symphony).
CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA IN A MINOR
Antonin Dvořák (1841–1904)
Antonin Dvořák, the most performed of all Czech composers, wrote three concertos. That for the cello was one of his last works and is generally believed to be the greatest for that instrument. His piano concerto is a much earlier composition and is seldom performed. The violin concerto was premiered in 1883 and is highly regarded by many musicians, yet is not played as frequently as the true mainstays of the violin concerto repertoire.
Dvořák began the composition of the Violin Concerto in 1879, just after the premiere of Brahms’ Violin Concerto with Joseph Joachim as soloist and dedicatee. Dvořák completed the concerto in late 1879 and dedicated it to Joachim, but Joachim never performed the work in public, possibly because Dvořák refused to amend the end of the first movement.
Allegro ma non troppo. The structure of the first movement is unusual because following the normal exposition and development, the recapitulation is replaced by a brief 12 measure passage marked Quasi moderato, which serves as a transition directly into the second movement. This deviation from normal concerto structure also eliminates any cadenza for the soloist, which may be the reason that Joachim never found the time to perform the concerto publicly.
Adagio ma non troppo. The slow movement is of great beauty and of a scale equal to that of the opening movement. Because they are played without pause their combined length is about 20 minutes.
Finale: Allegro giocoso ma non troppo. The
brilliant finale emphasizes Dvořák’s
Czech nationalist side; his first set of Slavonic Dances was
published just before he started work on the
SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN E MINOR, OP. 64
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
Tchaikovsky composed the first four of his six numbered symphonies in the 11 years between 1866 and 1877. It was another 11 years before the completion of his Fifth Symphony in 1888. He was beset with doubts that he was written out as a composer, with nothing left to say. The lasting popularity of this symphony shows how mistaken these sentiments were. This is the most traditionally classic in structure of any of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. It employs a standard Germanic orchestra without any percussion beyond the timpani, yet sounds much “bigger” than the symphonies of Schumann or Brahms.
Andante- Allegro con anima. The opening theme, played by the clarinets, functions as a “motto” generally believed to represent fate. It is an introduction to the first movement and to the symphony as a whole, and after it subsides the true principal theme of the first movement is heard on the bassoons and clarinets. The movement as a whole is passionate and frequently frenzied, but dies away in total gloom.
Andante cantabile, conalcuna licenza. The opening theme provides one of the most important horn solos in any symphony, and probably the most familiar, as it was stolen for a pop hit titled “Moon Love” in early 1940s. This theme is succeeded by an even more impassioned second theme on the strings. The “motto” theme interrupts the beauty, but the first theme returns on the strings with horn accompaniment. The climax of the movement is marked by the second theme, climbing higher and higher until the “motto” breaks in again and shocks the music to a halt.
Valse: Allegro moderato. This melancholy waltz is interlude between the other larger movements, but the “motto” sneaks in softly on the bassoons just before the end of the movement.
Finale: Andante maestoso-Allegro vivace-Moderato assai e molto maestoso. The three tempo markings correspond to the three major sections of the finale. The andante maestoso presents the motto, but now in E Major, as an analogue to the introduction of the first movement when it was in E Minor. The allegro vivace is the brilliant majority of the finale and builds up to a loud drum-roll and a pause, which causes many audience members embarrassment should they applaud at this point. The “motto” now returns moderato assai e molto maestoso loudly and in a now fully triumphant E Major. The rapid final few measures are highlighted by the return of the main theme of the first movement played fff by the trumpets.