Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Violinist Augustin Hadelich Returns to Harrisburg

If you've heard Augustin Hadelich play Mozart and Beethoven concertos with us in seasons past, you'll already know this weekend's performances are not to be missed. This visit, he'll be playing an old favorite, the “Symphonie espganole” by Edouard Lalo. Also on the program, the Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez and, on the second half, the great Symphony in D Minor by César Franck.

The concerts are this Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum.

If you haven't heard Hadelich before, then here are a few videos to get you up to speed, thanks to YouTube: first, a general introduction in which he's playing bits of Paganini's Violin Concerto in D as well as the Lalo Symphonie espagnole and Sarasate's Ziguenerweisen (“Gypsy Airs”); the second clip promotes a recent recording released last March of the violin concertos by Jean Sibelius and Thomas Adès.
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Hadelich was born in Italy of German parents though he became an American citizen this past September (you can read about his playing “America the Beautiful” at his naturalization ceremony, here).

So it's appropriate he's playing a French composer's “Spanish Symphony” that's really a violin concerto.

Edouard Lalo's Symphonie espagnole hardly needs any expert analysis to explain the work to its audience (actually, I don't think any music needs expert analysis to explain it to its audience though some background material might be informative enough to enhance the experience of hearing it).

And it hardly needs any more an endorsement than the comment made by composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, writing to his friend and patron, Mme. von Meck, about the piece when it was still “new music” and then knowing the influence it had on him:

“Do you know the Symphonie Espagnole by the French composer Lalo? The piece has been recently brought out by that very modern violinist, Sarasate. It is for solo violin and orchestra, and consists of five independent movements, based upon Spanish folk songs. The work has
given me great enjoyment. It is so fresh and light, and contains piquant rhythms and melodies which are beautifully harmonized.... Lalo is careful to avoid all that is [routine], seeks new forms without trying to be profound, and is more concerned with musical beauty than with traditions.”

He had come across the piece while recuperating in Switzerland when his friend and former student, Josef Kotek, a violinist, returned from a trip to Berlin with an armload of new scores, including this piece by Lalo which had been premiered three years earlier. Tchaikovsky played through the piece with Kotek and was so delighted, he decided to put aside the piano sonata he was composing and start a brand new work, a violin concerto which he finished in less than a month.

If you're not already familiar with this very popular concerto, here are its five different movements played by five different performers.

1st Mvmt, Allegro non troppo - Anne Akiko Meyers, NHK Orchestra of Tokyo, Marek Janowski –

2nd Mvmt, Scherzando – Zino Francescatti, New York Philharmonic, Dmitri Mitropolos –

3rd Mvmt, Intermezzo (which is sometimes omitted from performances or recordings, for some reason) – Henryk Szeryng, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, Edouard van Remoortel –

4th Mvmt, Andante – Itzhak Perlman, L'Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim – (please ignore the illustrations which, other than being by the Spanish painter, Goya, have nothing to do with the music and may prove disconcerting....)
(with the most obvious inspirations for Tchaikovsky's concerto)

5th Mvmt, Rondo, Allegro – David Oistrakh (1955), Philharmonia Orchestra, Jean Martinon –

There's an old joke that some of the best Spanish music is by French composers – pointing to Ravel who wrote his Bolero on a Spanish dance and his even more Spanish-flavored Rapsodie espagnole among other pieces; Debussy's Iberia, George Bizet's Carmen, and of course Lalo's Symphonie espagnole

One could argue the blood lineage for Ravel, whose mother was Basque, and for Lalo, whose family originated in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of what is now Belgium) in the 16th Century, descended from Spaniards who lived there during a particularly low period in the Low Countries' history when Belgium and Holland were called “The Spanish Netherlands.” It appears, according to Lalo's son, that their Spanish heritage was reinforced by several of the men marrying women from Spain, though none of the general biographical references I can find about Lalo even mention his mother...

He was born in Lille in the northernmost part of France, close to the Belgian border, his father a military man who had fought under Napoleon. Though Lalo's musical interests were at first encouraged – he studied violin and cello at the conservatory in Lille – when he wanted to pursue it as a career, his father put his militaristic foot down and so young Edouard, at the age of 16, ran off to Paris to pursue his dream!

It was also for the great Spanish violinist, Pablo de Sarasate, that Lalo wrote this symphony-concerto, and it was probably more a bow to Sarasate's nationality than it was an out-pouring of the composer's ethnic roots.

If anything, this work is less a symphony, at least as we think of it, but in France during much of the 19th Century, the symphony as a form was unpopular, especially after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Between Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique (by no means a typical symphony even for the 1830s) and 1873 when Sarasate premiered Lalo's latest work, there were few symphonies by any French composers in the repertoire.

I'll get more into that with the one and only Symphony by Cesar Franck which concludes this concert program.

Lalo initially pursued a career as a performing musician, playing in orchestras (some conducted by Berlioz) and forming a string quartet, playing the viola, then later the 2nd violin, which through the 1850s championed forgotten or unknown works (at least in France) of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann. During this time, he composed his own string quartet as well as two piano trios (a medium long neglected in France), plus two symphonies which he apparently destroyed. All of this looks more to German influences than French and it may go a great way to explain why he was also completely overlooked as a composer.

Discouragement was increased in 1866 when (now 43) he composed an opera for a competition that not only failed to win the prize but, despite some interest in Paris and Brussels, was never performed. Not surprisingly, bits of this opera showed up in at least five works later on.

Following the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War which brought down the 2nd Empire of Napoleon III, the French government pumped money into the national arts scene, hoping to revive interest in French art (music, theater, and dance especially), similar to an organization that supported painters a decade earlier. This had a major impact on Lalo despite his being considered “too Germanic” as a composer.

His first real success, then, was a Violin Concerto in F Major which was played by Pablo de Sarasate who liked it enough to request another work which became the Symphonie espagnole and not the Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor. It became an immediate success – and there's not a bit of Germanness in it from beginning to end. It remains his most frequently performed work.

Curiously, there were two other works for violin and orchestra that tried to ride the Symphonie's coat-tails – a Fantasie norvegienne of 1878 (later adapted as an orchestral Rhapsodie norvegienne) and, the following year, the Concert russe or Russian Concerto. Like many sequels, these fell flat at the box office.

Incidentally, once Camille Saint-Saëns began producing symphonies in Paris, Lalo once more tried his hand at a real symphony in the symphonic tradition in 1886. And that brings us to Cesar Franck and his Symphony in D Minor. You can listen to a complete performance of the symphony and find out more about its biographical background in this second post, here.

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But first, a bit of an encore from violinist Augustin Hadelich. Here are video clips of him performing a work by the violinist Pablo de Sarasate based on “Gypsy Airs,” known in German as Zigeunerweisen with pianist Akira Eguchi.

and while we're at it, why not another encore – the 24th of Nicolo Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin.

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A historical footnote.

Harrisburg Symphony, November 1931
Lalo's Symphonie espagnole was first played by the Harrisburg Symphony at its second concert ever – in November, 1931, conducted by George King Raudenbush. This photograph is the oldest known photo of the Harrisburg Symphony which gave its first concert on March 19th, 1931.

Sadah Shuchari, 1928
The soloist was Sadah Shuchari and though I can't tell you too much about her, her real name was Sadie Schwarz, she was born in 1908 in Connecticut, and she graduated from Juilliard. In 1928, she made a recording for the Victor company of Glazunov's Mélodie arabe and Kreisler's Sicilienne and Rigoudon with piano accompaniment. There's a New York Times review (which I can no longer access) of a 1931 performance, a month before her Harrisburg appearance, in which she performed Wieniawski (I'm assuming the 2nd concerto).

Though I can't locate it now, I recall reading her performance of Brahms' Violin Concerto with no less than the New York Philharmonic conducted by Willem Mengleberg in 1928 after she was awarded the Schubert Centennial Prize was essentially more than she could handle (but she was, at the time, a 19-year-old student). A Penn State newsletter includes a listing for a recital there which, when I checked the date, must've been when she was 12 years old. Later, she would go on to teach and perform in Dallas.

Okay, and now, on to Cesar Franck. (To be continued...)

- Dick Strawser

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