Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beethoven and Boccherini at the Bijou

This season’s first concert of the Chamber Classics series is just around the corner! This Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre, we will be presenting Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B♭, sandwiched by two works of Beethoven: his Overture to Coriolanus and the 4th Symphony, under the direction of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum. Our guest soloist for the Boccherini will be UT’s esteemed professor of cello, Dr. Wesley Baldwin.

Boccherini’s B♭ Concerto is arguably the most approachable of the “Big 9" concerti for the cello (others were written by Haydn [2], Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Tchaikovsky [Rococo Variations], Dvorak, and Elgar), but still nowhere near “easy.” Boccherini was Italian-born, but spent the last 44 of his 62 years in Spain, qualifying him as an honorary Spanish composer. The work, written some time between 1765 and 1774 (honestly, that’s the closest anyone has come to pinpointing a date), underwent a transformation at the hands of the German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher in 1895. This transformation borrowed parts of Boccherini’s other cello concerti in the outer movements and the entire slow movement of another. Grützmacher also composed cadenzas for all three movements, Boccherini having left none. Would Boccherini be pleased with what Grützmacher did? P’raps, p’raps not, but most cellists find that the Grützmacher “renovations” make the concerto much more palatable; “normalized,” if you will, given that Boccherini had a penchant for odd-length phrases and for repeating figures one or maybe two times too many.

Beethoven’s 4th has long been in the shadow of the odd-numbered symphonies that surround it. The Eroica (3rd) is the first “monster symphony” (dwarfing even the longest Mozart symphony, the Jupiter), and as for the 5th, well, welcome to the Romantic Era. The 4th has more in common with Beethoven’s first two symphonies than with the 3rd or 5th, and for good reason: the dedicatee, Count Franz von Oppersdorff of Silesia, had heard a performance of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony (which is nothing like the 3rd ), and commissioned a similarly “Classical” work. The premier happened in March of 1807; also on the program were the 4th Piano Concerto, which was heard on this past May’s Masterworks concert, and the Overture to Coriolanus which opens Sunday’s concert.

Speaking of Coriolanus, this is Beethoven’s darkest overture because it is the only one that stays in a minor key for its entirety. (The Egmont Overture starts in f minor but ends in F Major). It has some notoriety for having some especially difficult passages for the cellos. Matters are not helped by the fact that the Orchestra Excerpt Book for cello has some of the lines in the wrong order. At the risk of being called nerdy, I have included a couple photos of the affected passage. I guess it was a sort of backhanded way of making students dig deeper into the work, a way to separate the men from the boys, if you will, but most people just think it was sloppy editing. A classic case of WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?

                                (Excerpt book) The whole-notes should lead into the half-notes

                                                                 (Real Part) Like this!

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