OLIVIER LATRY PLAYS POULENC
|Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - 8:00 PM||Done|
|Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
André Prévost, Fantasmes (approx. 11 min)
Poulenc, Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor (approx. 22 min)
Shostakovich, Symphony no. 8 in C minor, op. 65 (approx. 61 min)
OSM organist emeritus Olivier Latry lends his magnificent talent to the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique which he inaugurated in May 2014, with this interpretation of Concerto for Organ by Poulenc, one of the most notable works in the repertoire. Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste completes the program with Symphony no. 8 by Shostakovich.
Contrary to contemporary popular belief, classical music does not exist in a vacuum. Composers are far from aloof to the personal and public sphere of human activity, and are often profoundly affected by the world around them. This sensitivity inevitably ends up colouring many aspects of their compositional output. Each composer featured on this concert, while separated by geography and time, expressed current events, both personal and public, through their works. As such, each work offers a unique window into a life, a country or a political viewpoint.
Born in Hawkesbury, in Ontario, on July 30, 1934 – Died in Montréal, on January 27, 2001
One of Canada’s most decorated composers, André Prévost began his studies in Montréal with Jean Papineau-Couture and Clermont Pépin, while a Canada Council grant enabled him to continue his apprenticeship with Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux in France. On his return to Canada in 1963, Zubin Mehta, then Music Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, commissioned a new work for the orchestra – Fantasmes. Premiered by the OSM on November 22 of that year – the same day John F. Kennedy was killed, Prévost later added an inscription on the score: “In memory of John F. Kennedy, president of the United States, victim of the world which I have described here in my music.” The work was successful, and went on to feature on the OSM’s recording with RCA Victor in 1968, along with works by Canadian composers Pierre Mercure, Roger Matton and Harry Somers. A High Fidelity review rated Prévost’s piece as the most successful of the group, making reference to the “grinding reiterations” that characterise the rhythmic and emotional plan of the work, while a critic from Music Magazine in 1982 didn’t doubt the composer’s indebtedness to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Prévost’s influence has continued to be felt, as much in his monumental Terre des hommes, a work for double orchestra, three choirs and two narrators, composed for the inauguration of Expo ’67, as in his legacy expressed through his former students, including composers José Evangelista, Denis Gougeon and Michel Longtin.
Born in Paris, on January 7, 1899 – Died in Paris, on January 30, 1963
Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor
Written between 1934 and 1938, Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani occupied the composer’s mind during an important period of transition and maturation. Hitherto buffeted by his father’s considerable fortune, Poulenc’s finances were greatly affected by the 1931 crash of the Lyon-Allemand bank, forcing him to solicit commissions from patrons he had always considered his equals. Luckily, the Princesse Edmund de Polignac took warmly to the idea of adding a piece by the relatively young Francis Poulenc to “her personal collection” of music, which included compositions by such luminaries as Stravinsky, Fauré, Falla and Satie. She proposed that the work should include an organ part for the purpose-built Cavaillé-Coll instrument that graced her Parisian parlour, and hinted that she should like to perform the work herself. In the end the organ part was too difficult for the Princesse, who entrusted the first performance to the celebrated organist Maurice Duruflé, alongside Nadia Boulanger, who conducted the string orchestra with timpani in 1938. Poulenc’s clever nod to de Polignac is evident in the very opening lines of the organ – a clear case of musical borrowing from the opening of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV 542), the very motive which graced the decorative letterhead of the Princesse’s stationary, on which Poulenc would have received many a hand-written note. The serious and reverent nature of the music is often understood as an expression of Poulenc’s turn to religion after receiving news of the gruesome death of his friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud in a car accident in 1936. Poulenc himself described the work as “not the amusing Poulenc of the Concerto for two Pianos, but more like a Poulenc en route for the cloister.” The crawling harmonies of the opening, punctuated by a repeating two-note motive in the timpani, lend a lugubrious quality, contradicted in the Allegro giocoso section with what feels like an infernal sort of chase-scene. Alternating lively and contemplative moods lead to a sort of meditation in which long organ melodies are supported by pulsating strings, while a humorous penultimate section leads to a quasi-reprise of the introduction, reminding us of the importance of Bach’s influence on the repertoire for this instrument.
Born in Saint Petersburg, on September 25, 1906 – Died in Moscow, August 9, 1975
Symphony no. 8 in C minor, op. 65
The Eighth Symphony marks the end of a relatively brief period of political calm in Shostakovich’s often tumultuous relationship with the Soviet authorities. Having watched, terrified, as Stalin himself jeered at a performance of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1936, he soon became the object of political censure. Shostakovich fell into step for his following major public works, producing the Fifth Symphony, which seemed to universally please both the public and the Party, and the Seventh, which was widely taken to symbolise the courage of the people of Leningrad during the German siege of that city. The dark and brooding Eighth Symphony of 1943 therefore represented somewhat of a change of course, perhaps giving voice to the composer’s true feelings on the artistic co-option of Soviet musicians. Confused by the sombre quality of the music, authorities scrambled to rationalise the work by officially dubbing it Stalingrad Symphony, in memory of those killed in that battle. Still, the Minister of Culture found it “repulsive and ultra-individualist,” while fellow composer Vladimir Zakharov stated that it “could in no way be called a musical composition: It is a composition which has absolutely no connection with the art of music.” The work was duly banned, not to reappear in that country until 1956. For his part, Shostakovich cannot have been surprised. He wrote sarcastically to his friend Isaak Glikman, “I am sure that it will give rise to valuable critical observations… enabling me to review that which I have created in the past.”
Unlike other famous symphonies in C minor (Beethoven’s Fifth, Bruckner’s Eighth, Mahler’s Second), this work does not follow a narrative of struggle leading to triumph, though it does end rather serenely in C major. The first movement is slow to develop, presenting a long, stepwise theme in the low strings (described by musicologist David Haas as a “fate motive”). With an extreme sensitivity to voice-against-voice counterpoint, the theme grows and augments in timbre with the gradual addition of woodwinds. A lyrical second theme is “militarised” in the development section before a drumroll climax leads to a restatement of the opening. The soft ending seems to dissolve and disappear into silence. The second movement was described by the composer as a march with elements of scherzo. It expresses characteristic irony in its juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory affects. A driving toccata third movement and a Passacaglia-inspired Largo lead to the final movement, which reintroduces the bracing percussion-driven climaxes of the first, and fades toward its peaceful, nearly inaudible close.
© Marc Wieser
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