Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4
Saturday, July 22, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Neil Thomson, conductor
Nikita Mndoyants, piano
Ticket holders may attend The PreConcert, a free recital in Thomas Hall, which begins one hour before the performance.
BACH / ELGAR Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
TIPPETT Symphony No. 1
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 (arr. Elgar)
The Fugue was premiered on October 27, 1921, in London under the direction of Eugene Goossens; the Fantasia was premiered on September 7, 1922 with Elgar as conductor.
One would think that an orchestral transcription represents the work of a young composer honing his skills as orchestrator. Yet Elgar approached J.S. Bach’s virtuosic organ piece at the end of his career at a time when his own compositional output had slowed considerably. There is a simple biographical reason for his transcription. Elgar had been good friends with Richard Strauss, yet they experienced World War I from opposing sides. At a post-war meeting in 1920 Elgar proposed a joint project of transcribing Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue to begin mending fences. Strauss was to take on the Fantasia and Elgar the Fugue. Unfortunately, Strauss did not hold up his end of the bargain, so Elgar finished the project by himself.
We can learn as much about Elgar as we can about Bach in this transcription. Having the complex counterpoint elucidated by the contrasting timbres of the orchestra clearly raises our understanding and appreciation of the mastery of the baroque composer’s counterpoint. Both the contrast of the sectional Fantasia and the expressive contrapuntal language of the Fugue are clearly delineated in Elgar’s orchestration. At the same time, Elgar’s masterful “translation” of this baroque piece into the realm of late Romanticism showcases his understated yet witty personality. While Elgar stays true to the musical text, he does a masterful job of creating a work that represents his own post-Romantic aesthetics. His use of the harp in the Fugue is especially effective in this regard. It would have been truly fascinating to be able to compare Elgar’s approach with that of Strauss, had he continued the musical peace process.
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Premiered on March 1807 at the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The public premiere on December 22, 1808 at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna.
In May 1809, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung called this concerto, “the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever.” Yet this masterwork was neglected during Beethoven’s lifetime, and it did not enter the repertoire until Felix Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann championed the concerto some 30 years later. The reviewer got it right, though, when he called the work the “most…artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever.” The Fourth Concerto shows an unparalleled level of sophistication and imagination on many levels, as Beethoven challenges convention at every turn. The pianist (instead of the orchestra) opens the work with an uncharacteristically lyrical theme. Sonata form concepts are stretched with constant modulations and unusual twists and turns. The highly expressive and intimate first movement culminates in an extensive cadenza. Yet at the end of the cadenza, the orchestra enters quietly before the movement closes in dramatic fashion.
The stunning second movement is a fascinating study of contrast. Juxtaposing the “angry” orchestra with the lamenting piano part, Beethoven creates a movement full of intense melancholy. As the movement progresses, the orchestra’s angry outbursts turn into utterances of sadness. The last movement breaks onto the scene almost as an interruption. The rondo movement covers a wide range of emotions from elation to wonder, matching the expressive character of the other movements. Beethoven brings the work to a brilliant close with a cadenza that leads seamlessly into a brief but climactic coda.
Michael Tippett (1905-1998)
Symphony No. 1
Premiered in Liverpool on November 10, 1945, by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcom Sargent.
What do Beethoven and Purcell have in common? Well, musically speaking, not very much. Purcell wrote English Baroque music, while Beethoven helped shape Germany Romanticism. Yet both composers towered over the next generations of composers, casting long shadows of influence. Tippett, as a true student of composition, was drawn to the craftsmanship and power of Beethoven and the expressive nature and depth of Purcell’s music. Tippett’s First Symphony synthesizes these ideals in a new way, as this first major orchestra work became the zenith of his early output.
Tippett provides only cryptic hints regarding the meaning of the work, calling the first movement an arrow, the second a circle, and the third a star. He never offered a hieroglyph for the last movement. Given the nature of these descriptors, Tippett seems less concerned about the meaning of the work and more about the listening process. The composer had spent the last several years crafting a musical language that was precise and unambiguous. At the core of Tippett’s language is the belief in absolute music: music for music’s sake—a closed system. Each movement explores different musical ideas within the confines of the typical four-movement framework. Yet there is one unmistakable commonality: the pervasive use of counterpoint (two more independent lines of music simultaneously) and the use of highly expressive lines: late Beethoven (counterpoint) and Purcell (expressive gestures). In the process, Tippett created a work that engages the listener right from the start. The first movement continually spins out not one, not two, but six themes, which are all motivically related. Moving seamlessly between these themes, Tippett creates a rich tapestry of wonder and excitement.
If the first movement seemed Beethovenian, the second is like a Purcell aria on steroids. Based on an expressive and dark ground-bass (constantly repeated theme), ten variations spin out slowly, moving toward a profound climax, before the movement ends in variations nine and ten as pensive and eerily hollow mirror images of the first two variations. Tippett’s goal for the third movement was to create a scherzo with Beethovenian dynamism. While there is no doubt that he succeeded, his method is somewhat surprising: Tippett borrowed the propulsive rhythmic quality of Perotin’s medieval three-part conductus Salvatore Hodie.
The various strains of the first three movements seem to have created just the right atmosphere for the exhilarating finale. Taking (more than) a page from Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, Op. 106, the last movement consists of two giant fugues (imitative counterpoint based on a specific theme). But as might be expected, there is a twist: just as everything seems to get worked out at the end of the double-fugue, the music seems to disintegrate, creating an unexpected and fascinating ending to a masterfully conceived work.
- Siegwart Reichwald
Overture Program Information
Artist Information (Show)
Neil Thompson, conductor
In his second season as Principal Conductor and Musical Director of the recently founded Orquestra Filarmonica de Goias in Brazil, Neil Thomson is one of the most widely respected and versatile British conductors of his generation. Born in 1966 he studied with Norman Del Mar at the Royal College of Music, and later at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Sanderling. He has conducted and recorded with both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia and in recent years has worked with the London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Halle, Royal Scottish National, and Royal Philharmonic Concert orchestras in the UK, Tokyo Philharmonic in Japan, Aarhus Symphony in Denmark, the RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin, the WDR Orchestra in Cologne and orchestras in Israel, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Mexico, Oman, and Lithuania.
From 1992 until 2006 Mr. Thomson was Head of Conducting at the Royal College of Music. The youngest ever incumbent of this post, he has established an enviable reputation as an orchestral trainer. His skills as a natural communicator have enhanced an already growing reputation as a teacher throughout Europe. He has twice given EU-sponsored master classes in Lithuania and has been a Guest Professor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Krakow Academy of Music, and the Conservatoire ‘Arrigo Boito’ in Parma. He has been on the jury of the Lorin Maazel Conducting Competition, the Eduardo Mata Conducting Competition in Mexico City, and the Prokofiev Conducting Competition in St Petersburg.
Mr. Thomson has performed with many distinguished soloists including Sir James Galway, Dame Moura Lympany, Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Felicity Lott, Philip Langridge, Stephen Hough, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Steven Isserlis, Julian Lloyd Webber, and Natalie Clein. Recordings include a CD of contemporary American violin concertos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He has made a specialty of conducting films live to screen including performances with the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera at the Barbican and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall.
Nikita Mndoyants, piano
Coming from a family of professional musicians, Nikita Mndoyants began to play the piano and compose music at a very young age. He gave his first public recital at age eight, and recorded his first CD (of a live performance in Helsinki) at age ten. Nikita Mndoyants received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, where he studied composition with Professor Alexander Tchaikovsky and piano with Professor Nikolay Petrov and Professor Alexander Mndoyants. Since 2013 he has taught orchestration at the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory.
Mr. Mndoyants won first prize at the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition, first prize at the 2007 Paderewsky International Piano Competition, and was a finalist at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. As a composer, Mr. Mndoyants received first prize at the 2014 Myaskovsky International Competition of Composers (Moscow, Russia) and 2016 Prokofiev International Competition of Composers (Sochi, Russia).
Mr. Mndoyants has toured throughout China, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.S., and has appeared in major concert halls in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Paris. He has worked with renowned conductors including Bramwell Tovey, Leonard Slatkin, Eri Klas, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Charles Ansbacher, and Alexander Sladkovsky. He has performed in several festivals, including the Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdroj (Poland), the International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York, and the Mariinsky International Piano Festival in St. Petersburg. Giving his first chamber performance with the Borodin Quartet in 2004, he has continued to cultivate his passion for chamber music, working with such ensembles as the Brentano, Eben, Zemlinsky, and Szymanowsky Quartets. Among his chamber music partners are pianists Alexander Ghindin and Vyacheslav Gryaznov, violinists Andrej Bielow and Valeriy Sokolov, cellists Lev Sivkov, Evgeny Rumyantsev, and clarinetist Patrick Messina.
Mr. Mndoyants has released solo and chamber recordings on the Classical Records and Praga Digitals labels.