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SYMPHORIA IN CONCERT

Join host Bruce Paulsen for this performance, broadcast on WCNY Classic FM.

Classic FM is available on 91.3 in Syracuse, 89.5 in Utica/Rome and 90.9 in Watertown, the North Country

 

Performed on January 26, 2019 at Crouse Hinds Concert Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Rosamunde: Overture

 

Performed on February 15, 2019 at Crouse Hinds Concert Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor, Julie Albers, cello

FRANZ JOSEF HAYDN

Cello Concerto No. 2, Hob. VIIb:2, D major

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro

 

Performed on September 21, 2019 at Crouse Hinds Theater
Lawrence Loh conductor

JOHANNES BRAHMS

Symphony No. 4, op. 98, E minor

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Allegro giocoso
  4. Allegro energico e passionato

Thanks so WCNY for supporting these Symphoria concert broadcasts!

PROGRAM NOTES

(Excerpts from concert programs)
Schubert: Rosamunde Overture
Symphoria has paid insufficient attention to Franz Schubert (1797–1828)—and we begin to make up for that by opening tonight’s concert with his Rosamunde Overture. Originally composed for incidental music to a play called The Magic Harp, it was later recycled to introduce yet another, Rosamunde. Although both plays have been forgotten, their joint overture lives on as Schubert’s most popular orchestral work aside from his last two symphonies. The reasons will be clear as you listen. Schubert tried his hand at opera a few times, without success. But — with ...
(Excerpts from concert programs)
Schubert: Rosamunde Overture
Symphoria has paid insufficient attention to Franz Schubert (1797–1828)—and we begin to make up for that by opening tonight’s concert with his Rosamunde Overture. Originally composed for incidental music to a play called The Magic Harp, it was later recycled to introduce yet another, Rosamunde. Although both plays have been forgotten, their joint overture lives on as Schubert’s most popular orchestral work aside from his last two symphonies. The reasons will be clear as you listen. Schubert tried his hand at opera a few times, without success. But — with its soulful lyricism, its splashes of high drama, its Rossinian energy, and its expert orchestration—this overture suggests that, had he lived longer, he might well have had success in that area as well.

Haydn: Cello Concerto No. 2
This evening, cellist Julie Albers makes her third Symphoria appearance. At her first, she offered a 20th-century masterpiece, the Elgar; at her second, she took on the 19th century with the Dvořák. Tonight, she continues this backwards journey, reaching into the 18th century with a performance of the 1783 Concerto in D by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809). As Julie hears it, this is an “enormously lyrical, pretty happy-go-lucky” piece. Yes, there are a few dark moments, especially in the minor key passage in the third movement; for the most part, though, sunshine prevails. Yet it’s also technically challenging. The difficulties begin the moment the cello enters. The opening melody, Julie says, might seem simple if you try to sing it. But “as soon as you put it on the cello, you have to deal with the logistics of shifting up and down the A string frequently, with no bumps and perfect intonation in order to create this beautifully simple melody. This can be stressful!” The conflict between that easy-going spirit and the stress on the performer provides the greatest challenge: the soloist has to make the treacherous sound simple. And to do that, “you have to have thought about and shaped every single detail, including the speed of the bow, the speed of the shift [moving your hand from one position to another on the fingerboard]... all of these things that people listening would never really know about.” Finding “the longest phrases that you can” and catching precisely the right tempo are key, too. Get it all perfect, and the sunny spirit prevails; without the right preparation, however, it can easily sound labored.

What should you listen for? Julie’s favorite spot is in the second movement, a passage in double stops: “it’s so touching and so tender.” But my guess it that wherever you turn your attention, you’ll find yourself hooked.

When he wrote this concerto, Haydn was something of an outsider, working as kapellmeister at the court of the Esterházy princes. While they admired his work and gave him a spectacular orchestra to work with, they kept him as a glorified lackey, away from the musical centers of Europe. Only later on did Haydn travel
the world as a star—achieving particular success in England.

Brahms: Symphony No. 4
We close the concert with the Symphony No. 4, a work representing Brahms the radical, once again contradicting conventional wisdom. Brahms, we’re often told, was the late 19th-century’s strongest defender of traditional values against the onslaughts of such revolutionaries as Wagner. And in a way, he was. But by the time he wrote this symphony in 1884–85, Wagner had already died—and the battle between them, more a product of the critics of the day than of the composers themselves, was beginning to seem a thing of the past. Once outside that media circus, the forward-thinking aspects of Brahms’s music became more and more audible, to the point where Schoenberg—the leader of the most aggressive wing of modernism in the first half of the 20th century—could eventually proclaim him “Brahms the Progressive.”

One key aspect of Brahms’s modernism is his ability to draw maximum musical power from a minimum of musical material. (That’s the bit of Brahmsian genius missed by Hugo Wolf,
one of the most ardent Wagnerians, when he sneered that Brahms had mastered the art of composing without ideas.) Take the Fourth’s opening theme. It’s built out of nothing but a chain of falling thirds—but by flipping every other pair so it becomes an upward sixth, Brahms turns it into a sighing theme of utmost poignance. That kind of economy marks the whole symphony—there’s nothing extra, nothing extravagant, yet the totality presents a richness perhaps unequalled in Brahms’s output. Then, too, there’s the rhythmic interplay of Brahms’s inner lines—sufficiently intricate that composer-conductor Gunther Schuller described him as a precursor of Stravinsky and Ives. Yet so assured was Brahms as a composer that he was able to cloak this radicalism in attire that didn’t disrupt late 19th-century norms.

Just as the Fourth blends the traditional and the forward-thinking, so it merges the tragic and the triumphant—which has led to debate about its dramatic trajectory. For some critics, it traces out a descent into darkness. Conductor Larry Loh sees it quite differently. Yes, there are elements of tragedy in the first movement, pointing, among other things, to the “heart- wrenching” second theme. But the second movement “draws us out of that,” beginning with what he hears as “sounds echoing in a cavern.” The third movement, brightened by the addition of piccolo and triangle, is surprisingly “upbeat and positive.” The key to it all, though, is the finale, which bursts forth with the entry of the trombones, silent until now. In structure, it’s a passacaglia, a strict baroque form that consists of a set of variations on a repeating and unchanging bass—in this case, a series of eight chords, loosely based on Bach’s Cantata No. 150. Yet its formal strictness is belied by what Larry calls the “incredible amount of variety” (another example of getting the most music out of minimal material): as it goes through a wide range of emotions, it’s less a set of separate variations than a constant “transformation.” The movement reaches a point of stillness in the middle, as the flute dominates—but then “when the trombones come out of that, it's like a slow rise and then we get back to the faster tempo. And it ends with a kind of exclamation mark, much faster than you think it's going to.” A striking conclusion to Brahms’s symphonic output.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have comments or questions? Contact me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org

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