VASILY PETRENKO & THE MAHLER'S FIRST

Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $200*
Concert dates
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 - 8:00 PM Done
Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 8:00 PM Done
Artists
Vasily Petrenko, conductorchef d’orchestre
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianopiano

Presentation of the concert

Berlioz, Le corsaire Overture, op. 21 (approx. 8 min)
Liszt, Piano Concerto no. 2 in A major (approx. 21 min)

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Mahler, Symphony no. 1 in D major, “Titan” (approx. 53 min)

 

Mahler’s “Titan” is juxtaposed with Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, an especially virtuosic work, performed here by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. And the widely hailed talents of conductor Vasily Petrenko are sure to impress.

 

 

The three works on this program all come from the mid-to-late 19th century, and all are audience favorites. Berlioz’ dashing Le corsaire Overture gets things off to a thrilling start. Then comes Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, which is constructed on the principle of thematic transformation – the continuously self-generating form in which “new” themes are simply recast from a single initial motif, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. And finally, Mahler’s First Symphony, the longest, most sensational first symphony composed up to that time.

 

HECTOR BERLIOZ
Born in La Côte-Saint-André, near Grenoble, December 11, 1803 – Died in Paris, March 8, 1869
Le corsaire Overture, op. 21

In 1831, after learning that his fiancée Marie Moke had married another man, Berlioz determined to commit murder but then decided on suicide instead. En route back to Paris from Italy, where he had been studying, he jumped into the Mediterranean but was rescued. During his three-week recuperation in Nice, he secluded himself in a stone tower overlooking the sea, where he made the first sketches of what eventually became the Corsaire Overture. But he put the sketches aside and did not complete them until 13 years later, when he returned to Nice, found his interest in the work rekindled, and finished the work while sitting atop the Martello Tower looking out over the sea. Initially he entitled the piece La tour de Nice and conducted the first performance in Paris in January, 1845. The premiere convinced the composer that revisions were necessary. One of the revisions concerned the title, which was changed to Le corsaire rouge and later simply to Le corsaire.

The composer did not intend listeners to equate the music specifically with either James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Red Tower or with Byron’s poem The corsair. Other elements probably did much more to help generate the musical ideas: a stormy and dangerous sea voyage, a meeting with a real Venetian pirate, and Berlioz’ own desperate frame of mind following the suicide attempt. In 1855 – 24 years after the initial sketches were made – the final version of the overture was heard in Paris.

The form of the overture is traditional except for the impulsive opening, which sounds almost as if one were suddenly thrust into the middle of a performance. This very brief opening passage is followed by an adagio, which leads into the allegro proper. Berlioz’ characteristic qualities of brilliant orchestration, rhythmic energy and yearning melody are present throughout.

FRANZ LISZT
Born in Raiding, Hungary (now part of Austria), October 22, 1811  – Died in Bayreuth, Germany, July 31, 1886
Piano Concerto no. 2 in A major, S. 125

Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto had its genesis in 1839 but was not completed until ten years later. The first performance was not given until a further eight years had passed (by one of his students, Hans von Bronsart). Revisions were made before the premiere and more were made afterwards; the score was not published until 1863.

Although nominally a concerto, the work unfolds much like a symphonic poem, based on the principle of thematic transformation – a continuous self-generating form in one movement in which the themes of each section are derived from a single initial motif. The themes may be harmonically re-cast, melodically disguised, played faster or slower, rhythmically altered, or worked through any combination of these.

The nostalgic, plaintive theme of this concerto is presented in the opening bars by the clarinet and oboe, accompanied by the other winds in characteristic Lisztian chromatic harmony. The soloist soon enters, already playing a variant of the theme. (In fact, the piano never gets to play the theme in its original, unadorned state.) A second variant played by the soloist leads into a passage featuring solo horn accompanied by typically Lisztian filigree of fleet chromatic scales. The mood changes: dark rumblings and growls in the piano become a new kind of accompaniment for still another metamorphosis of the theme. And so it goes, each episode bringing with it a new mood, a new configuration of soloist and orchestra, a new tempo, a new rhythmic pattern.

GUSTAV MAHLER
Born in Kaliště, Bohemia, July 7, 1860 – Died in Vienna, May 18, 1911
Symphony no. 1 in D major, “Titan”

Mahler began his gigantic First Symphony in 1884 and completed it four years later, appending the subtitle “Titan” after a novel by Jean Paul. The composer led the first performance in Budapest on November 20, 1889. Among the innovations one can point to in this symphony are the largest assemblage of orchestral musicians hitherto required in a symphony, and the incorporation of café, pop and gypsy music, especially in the Funeral March.

The opening moments of the work are unforgettable –that sustained, distant sound of strings spread across a six-octave range vividly suggests the mystery and peace of the night, into which are interjected cuckoo calls, far-off fanfares and fragments of still-unformed melodies. Mahler described the passage as depicting the awakening of nature from its long winter sleep. The mood of the lengthy slow introduction is finally dispelled by a sprightly theme first heard in the cellos, followed by another lusty, outdoorsy theme. The music grows in fervor and intensity, culminating in a mighty outburst from the entire orchestra. The release of enormous, pent-up energy is crowned by three whoops from the horn section, and the movement continues on its merry way to its conclusion.

The robust scherzo movement is notable for its heavy rhythmic impulses derived from the Ländler, a rural Austrian dance. Special effects here include the use of the woodwind section en masse in featured roles and breathtaking fanfares from the horns and trumpets. A charming Trio, introduced by a poetic horn call, provides gentle contrast.

The third movement opens with a sinister, minor-key variant of the popular French folksong “Frère Jacques.” The tune is used as a canon or round, with additional instruments taking up the tune in turn (bassoon, cellos, tuba, etc.) without waiting for the previous one to finish. After this material has run its course we hear a new, sentimental theme in the oboes. The sounds of a country fair intrude, and then, as if from another world, we hear music of sublime beauty and gossamer textures. Eventually the mournful “Frère Jacques” music returns, and the movement slowly recedes into the furthermost reaches of audibility.

Anyone who has dozed off to the third movement’s funereal tread will be instantly and rudely shocked back to his senses with the hellish outburst that opens the finale, one of the most frightening passages in all music. Strings swirl and rage, woodwinds in their highest registers scream in anguish, brass proclaim terrifying fanfares, and percussion evoke the din of battle and cataclysmic conflicts. When the torrent of notes finally subsides, strings sing a consoling, infinitely tender and yearning song. The violent conflicts return, but this time they result in heroic proclamations from the brass. However, victory and fulfillment are not quite yet achieved. In another long, generally quiet passage, the music slowly gathers momentum, ultimately reaching a towering climax for which Mahler instructs the entire horn section to stand while it delivers fanfares from within an orchestra gleaming in a thousand dazzling colors.

© Robert Markow

 

 

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