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Sibelius's En Saga concludes tonight's Concert which also features Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, premiered 200 years ago yesterday.
Two hundred years ago yesterday, Beethoven's Symphony No.7 was heard for the first time. Described by Wagner, no less, as 'the apotheosis of the dance', this four-movement symphony begins in grave, sombre tones. The orchestral colours are dark, creating a sense of foreboding about what’s to come. The lightness of touch in later parts of the symphony – particularly the third movement – is therefore surprising, with some parts seeming very consciously to link back to the light-hearted mood of the Pastoral. The sombre second movement, which featured in the film The King's Speech, is a wonderful blend between orchestral gravitas and the swelling tunes Beethoven writes so well.
A violin interlude follows with Joshua Bell playing Estrellita by Manuel Ponce. Meaning 'Little Star', the 1912 piece is the Mexican composer's most famous work.
The Polish pianist and composer Franz Xaver Scharwenka was raised in the spirit of European Romanticism, championing the music of Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt, and gaining enormous popularity for his own compositions, which Liszt greatly admired. Scharwenka’s fourth and final Piano Concerto (which the composer performed under the direction of Mahler and Stokowski) is a work of genius which stands at the apex of his achievement.
The tone poem En Saga by Sibelius (pictured) offers a general picture of the world of the Scandinavian sagas, rather than following a detailed programme from the Finnish epic, Kalevala. It won immediate success at its first performances in 1893 and in its revised form has retained a place in concert repertoire.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A major
Osmo Vanska conducts the Minnesota Orchestra
Manuel Ponce: Estrellita
Violin: Joshua Bell
Michael Stern conducts the Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Xaver Scharwenka: Piano Concerto No.4 in F minor
Piano: Stephen Hough
Lawrence Foster conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Jean Sibelius: En Saga
Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra