The Princesses' Round Dance Igor Stravinsky
Mozart, Saint-Saens and Tchaikovsky are all on the menu for tonight's Concert.
Mozart's Symphony No. 40, which opens tonight's concert, is arguably the most popular of all of Mozart’s 41 symphonies. It has one of the catchiest opening movements of any symphony and the work was said to have soon come to the attention of Beethoven. As well as paying homage to its composition by writing out passages in his own hand, it is thought that Beethoven was inspired by Mozart's last movement when he wrote his own fifth symphony.
The works we most commonly associate with Saint-Saens come from the 1870s and 1880s when he was at the peak of his fame. These include Danse Macabre, the opera Samson and Delilah, the 'Organ' Symphony, Carnival of the Animals and his first Cello Concerto. It was written for the cellist and educator Tolbecque who was doing much at the time to enhance the status of the cello. What makes Saint-Saens concerto unusual is the way he condenses the conventional concerto's three-movement formula into a compact single movement of about 20 minutes. Additionally, he carefully integrates the cellist into the orchestral fabric rather than staging the usual battle between soloist and orchestra. It's played tonight by the brilliant Mischa Maisky - pictured.
Although composed in 1994, Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium took a good few years before garnering widespread praise. and while it is performed all year round, the piece, at its heart, tells the story of the birth of Jesus. Lauridsen’s music is as sensitive and spiritual as you could possibly wish for. Dense layers of sustained choral lines placed one on top of the other blend to create indulgent yet deceptively simple harmonies – a hallmark of the composer’s consistently moving output.
Tonight's concert ends with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 in F minor. Following his catastrophic two month marriage to a former student, the composer made a start on his fourth symphony. After emerging from a profound period of writer's block, struggling with his sexuality and battling with a heavy bout of depression, it's perhaps unsurprising that the music is urgent, supercharged and violent at points. Even the opening bars of the first movement are intended to represent a metaphor for Fate, or, as Tchaikovsky put it: 'the fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness'. Between the moments of anguish and melancholy, Tchaikovsky proves he knows how to write a great tune - even the plaintive oboe melody at the beginning of the second movement swells with a poignancy and optimism, helped along by lush strings and booming brass. The Finale, complete with frenzied plucking from the strings and rushing scales bursting through the texture, is certainly a highlight. The doom-laden Fate theme comes back once more - a cyclical feature Tchaikovsky went on to use in the two symphonies that followed.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.40 in G minor
Claudio Abbado conducts Orchestra Mozart
Camille Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor
Cello: Mischa Maisky
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
Stephen Layton conducts Polyphony
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4 in F minor
Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra