Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928)
Into the Heart of Light (2011) uk premiere
During the ninth and tenth year of the new millenium I once in a while got small melodic and harmonic ideas, motives I could write down and join to each other. In other words I tried to propose certain conduct to them. I listened to them without forcing, but I was still in the dark without seeing the goal. What did those ideas really want? I trusted Thomas Mann who claims that a work of art has ”a metaphysical own will to become true”. As a natural scientist would say: an emergence takes place.
And something began to brighten up gradually, a certain kind of a light to the core of which this music would be on the way. So when the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, which I greatly appreciated, wanted to have a new work from me, I understood that with them the heart of the light would be achieved.
© Einojuhani Rautavaara
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827
Piano Concerto No 2 in B-flat major, Op 19 (1785-95)
Allegro con brio
Finale: Molto allegro
Tradition declares Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto to be in reality his first. In fact it is his only piano concerto to be correctly numbered. Though believed to date from around 1795, by which time he had left his native Bonn and settled in Vienna, it was probably sketched in his hometown ten years earlier. There it had been preceded in 1783 by an even more junior piano concerto, written in E-flat major (the future key of the Emperor concerto) upon which no number has been bestowed, but which still receives an occasional performance, particularly in Germany.
The impressive concerto in C major, complete with trumpets and drums and long established as No 1, is in fact his third, just as his third is his fourth, and so on. Whether this evening’s work in B flat major, which we identify as No 2, really requires a number is disputable, since it is as much a piece of juvenilia as the rest of his early Bonn output. Yet Beethoven’s powerful personality unquestionably shines through its every note. The music is keenly etched and full of invention, brilliant enough to suggest that, had he never moved to Vienna, Beethoven would still have become a composer of consequence. Though it was not a work he claimed to be proud of, he was sufficiently interested in it to perform it in Prague in 1798 and to go on revising it up to 1801.
The start of the first movement, more lightly scored than that of the C major concerto, succinctly provides the feel of the music, for in the space of a couple of phrases it supplies a brisk orchestral call to attention and a graceful answer from the violins. When the soloist enters it is not with one of the themes already heard but with an entirely new one – an idea Beethoven appropriated from Mozart, whose concertos he revered. But the movement also points the way to Beethoven’s more audacious symphonic style, not least through its abrupt and surprising modulations. The forward-looking cadenza, which Beethoven added some years later, is even more surprising in attitude.
The Adagio, hailed by Beethoven’s pupil Czerny as a “dramatic vocal scene”, is broad and expressive, with a main theme played first by the strings before being taken up by the soloist, who then proceeds to a graceful tributary theme loaded with decorations. But the most striking moment is to come, when the piano breaks free from the orchestra to play a remarkable recitative-like passage in bare, single notes, marked con gran espressione. The orchestra steals back with atmospheric references to the main theme, and the movement ends quietly.
The finale is a spirited rondo, with a bumpy main theme bounced out by the soloist. An episode involving a cycle of broken octaves on the piano leads to a new, forward-looking, rather Schumannesque tune, and then to a grinding, syncopated passage taken through several minor keys. After a last return to the main theme, the concerto ends with a rippling decrescendo on the piano, followed by five affirmative bars for the orchestra.
© Conrad Wilson
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Symphony No 5 in D major, Op 107, ‘Reformation’ (1832)
Andante – Allegro con fuoco
Chorale: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott – Andante con moto – Allegro vivace - Allegro maestoso
In the 'Reformation' symphony, Mendelssohn forged an orchestral link between church and concert hall without the assistance of a choir. The chorale-like orchestration of Martin Luther’s setting of Psalm 46, Ein’ feste Burg (‘A Safe Stronghold’), and the quoting of Johann Naumann’s Dresden Amen half a century before Wagner employed it in Parsifal, were conceived symphonically with a brilliance and solemnity entirely suited to the occasion that was the work’s raison d’etre. Indeed the tercentenary of the Augsburg Protestant Confession of 1530, through which the Lutheran Church displaced Catholicism in Germany, could not have found a composer better equipped than Mendelssohn to celebrate it.
Young though he was when he wrote this wrongly-numbered work (it was the second, not the fifth, of his mature symphonies) Mendelssohn’s grasp of what was needed was audaciously assured. Yet it never had the auspicious send-off it deserved. The 1830 premiere was postponed. A performance in Paris was cancelled because the players deemed it too didactic. Not until Mendelssohn made revisions was it finally unveiled in Berlin in November 1832, with the composer himself conducting. Even today it falls short of the Italian and Scotch symphonies in popularity. But this at least has the advantage of making every good performance of it a revelation.
In addition to its religious back-references, the work also contains a famous symphonic one, declaimed in the slow introduction to the first movement in conjunction with the Dresden Amen. So recognisable is this as the opening of Haydn’s London symphony that the resemblance hardly seems coincidental. The main allegro section is in Mendelssohn’s stormiest vein, with swirling anticipations of the Hebrides overture, but the poetic highpoint is the softly inspired reappearance of the Dresden Amen just before the subdued start of the recapitulation.
The two central movements are intermezzi, first a gracefully swaying scherzo, next a rather operatic song – or recitative - without words, serving as introduction to the finale, which is announced with a gradually swelling delivery of Ein’ feste Burg. It’s towards this sonorous chorale that the work has clearly been heading. The ending is grand and exuberant.
© Conrad Wilson
Charismatic Finn John Storgårds returns to the SCO with a new work from his famous countryman, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Mendelssohn’s majestic ‘Reformation’ Symphony. It was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession – the statement of Lutheran beliefs and practices presented to the Emperor Charles V in 1530; Mendelssohn captures the mystery and awe of the revelation, but also the fire and drama of Luther’s story. Pizarro’s performances of Beethoven have been described as an ‘unalloyed delight’. Not to be missed.