Czech Philharmonic and Petr Altrichter perform with the French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras at Tokyo's Suntory Hall as a part of the orchestra's 2017 tour of Asia.
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Carnival overture, Op. 92
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
In 1891, Antonín Dvořák was offered the directorship of the New York Conservatory. After some hesitation, the composer accepted this challenge – which was interesting in both artistic and financial terms – and the next year sailed with his family across the Atlantic. Beyond leading the institution, his duties included teaching composition, and he also had the ambition of laying down the ideological foundations of American art music. Dvořák spent more than two-and-a-half years in America and wrote important instrumental works there. These include, in addition to his String Quartet No. 12 in F Major “American”, his most often played orchestral compositions, namely, Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” and the work that opens this evening, Cello Concerto in B Minor.
Dvořák completed his only concert work for the cello whilst still in New York, but reworked its conclusion on returning to his homeland. Although the work adopts the traditional three-movement concerto form, it is conceived rather symphonically. It starts with an extensive orchestral introduction, presenting the two contrasting themes of the first movement, which is in loose sonata form. The cello then resolutely introduces a new exposition of the first theme, which the soloist continues to work with, until the second theme is outlined. The sonata development is very brief and the recapitulation, full of virtuoso runs for the solo instrument, has also been treated very freely by the composer. The second movement takes a symmetric ternary form with a dramatic middle section and lyrical outer sections. Here the writing for the cello is characterised by semitone “sighs” and numerous double-stops. The final movement is a rondo and has been read as a joyful harbinger of the composer’s return to the motherland. Immediately upon its premiere, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto gained significant popularity and to this day continues to be a favourite in the repertoires of the world’s greatest cellists.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphonic legacy represented a challenge for almost every composer of the following generations. Composers were expected to come with their own approach which would be as good as Beethoven’s music, while not imitating it, and express their own individuality. Because of the great respect to Beethoven’s symphonic legacy, Johannes Brahmsdid not finish his Symphony No. 1 in C minor until he turned forty-four. He confided his fears to conductor Hermann Levi in the early 1870: “I’ll never get a symphony written. You have no idea of what it is like always to hear such a giant’s footsteps marching behind you.”
The Symphony No. 4 in E minor Op. 98 is the last of his symphonies, created soon after Symphony No. 3. Brahms worked on the piece in Mürzzuschlag, Styria, where he spent his summer vacation in the years 1884–1885. Despite Brahms’s concerns, the Fourth had a very positive fate. It was premiered on October 25, 1885 in Meiningen, Germany, with Brahms himself conducting. He had a chance to present it with an elite European orchestra – the court orchestra of Meiningen (Meininger Hofkapelle) headed by the legendary Hans von Büllow. A week after the premiere Büllow started a tour with the orchestra of Holland and West Germany, where in addition to other compositions he performed it to great acclaim.
Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor Op. 98 is considered a masterpiece. The work with themes is dominated by the i.e., developing variations, as this compositional technique was later called by Arnold Schoenberg. It consists of the extension and transformation of the theme that often takes place covertly and often leads to a new final shape. The fourth movement has a surprising polyphonic structure. Brahms conceived it as thirty contrapuntal variations in 8 bars over an ostinato bass, where the main melody is an expansion of a chaconne tune from Bach’s cantata Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich BWV 150. This is incredibly tightly constructed and thoughtful music. When in 1897, shortly before his death, Brahms attended a Viennese performance of this symphony, he was witness to its enthusiastic reception as a work which had already stood the test of time.
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