Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tunesmiths in Action

We have been visiting the mind and heart of Beethoven and Shostakovich these days, and they have been gracious hosts. Our accommodations feature transcendent sonic luxury in the form of a gem from Beethoven’s succulent Middle Period (Piano Concerto No.4), and Shostakovich’s luscious 10th Symphony. I dare say that these are works that I haven’t performed frequently but I’m sort of glad I haven’t, because it makes their re-acquaintance all the finer. Despite the fact that both of these works are identified only by their numbers (pretty much the most famous “4th concerto” & “10th symphony” in the standard rep.), they are must-hear works that help earn both composers the of title of tunesmith.

Beethoven really broke some rules with the 4th concerto. Most, if not every concerto written up til then had a big ol’ orchestral introduction (tutti). The 4th starts with a quiet solo piano chord. And then a few more. It’s unassuming and seductive, but when the strings come in a few bars later, you realize that hey, this is not your father’s piano concerto. From this point on in the compositional timetable, orchestral tuttis became optional, or at least held to a few bars. Like the Shostakovich that follows on the second half, this first movement creates structural suspense that is just riveting. The second movement Andante con moto is beyond words beautiful and profound with just strings and piano, and the final Rondo: Vivace is a race to the finish. Just take a look at the chronology in the environs of this work in Beethoven’s output:

Op.55- Eroica Symphony
Op. 56 Triple Concerto for Violin, cello and piano; we played this with the Eroica Trio in September here. It seems like years ago now.
Op. 57 Piano Sonata, Appassionata
Op. 59 not one but Three Razumovsky Quartets, holy horseshoe, Batman!
Op. 60 Symphony. No. 4
Op. 61 Violin Concerto

Shostakovich’s tenth symphony is the best piece composed in 1951, and my favorite symphony of his to play. Biographical leitmotifs serve as bricks in a musical wall, which is finally busted  through in the last movement. The second movement is a renowned musical portrait of Stalin– a giant orchestral machine in overdrive. The famous “three knocks” rhythmic motif is used quite a bit in the third movement. Shostakovich’s writing for all the winds, but especially the bassoon family, is hauntingly beautiful and I promise you it will be in your dreams that night if you hear it (Thursday or Friday night– OR BOTH– 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre).

Can you tell this is my favorite concert of the year?

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