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Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and Bach's first Cello Suite are among the highlights in tonight's concert.
Tonight's concert opens with Gioachino Rossini's overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers. He wrote the opera when he was 21 and the overture is still widely recorded and performed today. It's known for its distinct opening of slow, quiet pizzicato basses leading to a sudden loud burst of sound from the full orchestra. This "surprise" reflects Rossini's early admiration for Haydn, whose Symphony No. 94 in G major, the 'Surprise Symphony' is named for the same effect.
The Symphonic Variations is a work for piano and orchestra written in 1885 by César Franck. It has been described as "one of Franck's tightest and most finished works", "a superb blending of piano and orchestra", and "a flawless work and as near perfection as a human composer can hope to get in a work of this nature".
Originally dubbed 'recollections of life in the country', Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 is the composer's homage to the great outdoors. He was, in many ways, an urban man, known and revered in Vienna, and central to the city’s reputation within European culture at the time. And yet, as the five descriptively titled sections of this piece so amply prove, he also had a joyous view of the countryside and all it contains. The work is one of the first real examples of what became known as 'programme music': music that tells a specific story or paints an aural picture of a particular scene. Just one of the many ways in which Beethoven was a groundbreaking composer.
It's likely Bach wrote his Cello Suites between 1717-23 when he was serving as Kapellmeister in Köthen. They are, without a doubt, some of the most emotionally intense pieces in the Baroque repertoire, making the most of the emotional depth of a solo cello and using a wide range of complex playing techniques. There are six suites in all, each with six movements, each of which acts like a musical conversation – high passages are echoed by reflective low playing, and dense chords accompany delicate ornamental flourishes. The most famous movement, the 'Prelude' from Suite No. 1 in G, is a great example of Bach's genius; there's no accompaniment, but the harmony plays out note-by-note like a musical journey, as chords are implied over the course of a bar rather than played.
The concert concludes with the Clarinet Concerto in G minor by Julius Rietz (1812–1877). Reitz was a distinguished conductor. Starting as Mendelssohn’s assistant at the Düsseldorf Opera he later became musical director before moving to Leipzig, where he directed both the Opera and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. His attractive Clarinet Concerto is in three linked movements, paralleling the form of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Gioachino Rossini: The Italian Girl in Algiers – Overture
Ivan Fischer conducts the Budapest Festival Orchestra
Cesar Franck: Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
Piano: Philippe Entremont
Jean Martinon conducts the French Radio National Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.6 in F major
Emmanuel Krivine conducts Le Chambre Philharmonique
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G major
Cello: Mstislav Rostropovich
Julius Rietz: Clarinet Concerto in G minor
Clarinet: Thea King
Andrew Litton conducts the English Chamber Orchestra