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Czech Philharmonic • Piotr Anderszewski
Scherzo fantastique, Op. 25
Piano Concerto No. 3
Scherzo triste, Op. 5
Taras Bulba, a rhapsody for orchestra
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
Although it might not seem so at first glance, this entire programme put together by Jakub Hrůša will be somewhat in the spirit of Janáček. Of any work in the worldwide literature, Béla Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto is the closest to Janáček in terms of its mood and folk inspiration. And if one did not to know that the composer of the Scherzo triste was Janáček’s pupil Pavel Haas, one might reasonably attribute it to Janáček himself. The colours of this beautiful, original music seem to be an outgrowth of Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen, and the violin solo at the end foreshadows the next work on the programme, Taras Bulba. Suk’s Scherzo fantastique naturally follows in the compositional traditions of Dvořák, which Janáček also built upon, and we clearly find something like this in the Lachian Dances as well. It is as if all four works were somehow connected, yet each presents its composer’s mastery in an original way. Just as Leoš Janáček is an original figure who is difficult to categorise among the world’s composers, Piotr Anderszewski is an absolutely unique phenomenon on today’s piano scene. This introverted star, a virtuoso but not a showman, carefully chooses his repertoire and musical collaborators. He appears regularly with Jakub Hrůša. Anderszewski has earned international awards for his recordings of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Szymanowski, and his Polish-Hungarian roots have naturally led him to perform the music of Béla Bartók.
Piotr Anderszewski is regarded as one of the outstanding musicians of his generation. He appears regularly in recital at such concert halls as the Wiener Konzerthaus, Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. His collaborations with orchestra have included appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin Staatskapelle orchestras, the London Symphony and Philharmonia orchestras and the NHK Symphony Orchestra. He has also placed special emphasis on playing and directing, working with orchestras such as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Camerata Salzburg.
In the 2019/2020 season Anderszewski will appear with (among others) the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. His play/direct collaborations will include concerts with his regular partners the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a European tour with the Kammerorchester Basel. In recital he can be heard at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Philharmonie in Cologne, the Alte Oper Frankfurt, and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow.
Piotr Anderszewski has been an exclusive artist with Warner Classics/Erato (previously Virgin Classics) since 2000. His first recording for the label was Beethovenʼs Diabelli Variations, which went on to receive a number of prizes. He has also recorded Grammy-nominated discs of Bachʼs Partitas 1, 3 and 6 and Szymanowskiʼs solo piano works, the latter also receiving a Gramophone award in 2006. His recording devoted to works by Robert Schumann received the BBC Music Magazineʼs Recording of the Year award in 2012. Anderszewskiʼs disc of Bachʼs English Suites nos. 1, 3 and 5, released in November 2014, went on to win both a Gramophone award and an ECHO Klassik award in 2015. His most recent recording of two late Mozart concertos with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was released in January 2018.
Recognised for the intensity and originality of his interpretations, Piotr Anderszewski has been a recipient of the Gilmore award, the Szymanowski Prize and a Royal Philharmonic Society award. He has also been the subject of several documentaries by the film maker Bruno Monsaingeon. “Piotr Anderszewski plays Diabelli Variations” (2001) explores Anderszewskiʼs particular relationship with Beethovenʼs iconic work. “Unquiet Traveller” (2008) is an unusual artist portrait, capturing Anderszewskiʼs reflections on music, performance and his Polish-Hungarian roots. In 2016 Anderszewski got behind the camera himself to explore his relationship with his native Warsaw, creating a film entitled “Je mʼappelle Varsovie”.
Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, and Zurich Opera. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.
His recording of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony was nominated for a Gramophone Award, and his Dvořák Violin Concerto CD with the Bavarian Radio Symphony was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2020, his recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Bamberg Symphony, and Vanessa from Glyndebourne, won BBC Music Magazine Awards. Other releases include Dvořák and Brahms Symphonies with Bamberg Symphony, Suk’s Asrael with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Dvořák’s Requiem and Te Deum with the Czech Philharmonic.
Hrůša studied at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.
Scherzo fantastique op. 25
Suk composed his Scherzo fantastique in G Minor, Op. 25, between July and October of 1903 while working on the Fantasy in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 24, and before the symphonic poem Praga, op. 26. The composer chose a ternary form (A-B-Aʼ + Coda), with material from the first section abbreviated and varied in the third section, while the middle section is slower and features lyrical passages. The transition between the A and B sections consists of harmonic undulations. The Coda brings the work to a close. The dynamic layout of the work plays an important role, with the sound reaching a maximum volume in the middle third of part A and towards the conclusion.
The Scherzo was premiered on 18 April 1905 at the Rudolfinum in Prague at a concert of the conservatoire orchestra with the school’s director Jindřich Kàan z Albestů conducting. It was performed again six months later at the first popular concert of the Czech Philharmonic at the Municipal House under the baton of Oskar Nedbal, to whom the printed score is dedicated. The score was published together with a piano reduction in Leipzig at the time of the performance by the Czech Philharmonic.
That same year, the composer reviewed the range of expression of his existing works, and he asserted that his music had become associated with “drive and passion”, and that the public might be surprised by the dreamy mood of A Fairy Tale (Op. 16, a suite of incidental music to Zeyer’s play Radúz and Mahulena) or by the monumentality of the symphonic poem Praga. He then described the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the Scherzo fantastique as unclassifiable, and he attributed a “demonic character” to them. In 1921, Suk took a very critical view of this stage: “The Scherzo fantastique somehow stands aside from my oeuvre, [...] I seem to be resorting to playing around with notes, and when doing so, perhaps something makes me wonder instinctively about what there is beyond us. Thus a scherzo, and a fantastical one. But in the spirit there is uncertainty; it is will without enthusiasm and without conviction. So I get stuck on motifs, and I’m not ashamed to repeat myself – repeating the same things endlessly. The fantastical element is in the dynamics, and nothing more. There are jokes in the instrumentation, but the music, while exotic, is less original than anything that preceded it. Or, to put it in two words: witty nothingness.” The composer was undoubtedly comparing this work written without much mental anguish with his later orchestral scherzos, which he created in an entirely different intellectual context, and which appeared in his symphonic tetralogy and had a tragic or tragic-sarcastic subtext (3rd movement – Vivace – of the Asrael Symphony, Op. 27, and the 4th movement of A Summer’s Tale, Op. 29, which bears the title In the Power of Phantoms and is subtitled Fantastic scherzo). Fortunately, it has been confirmed again in this instance that a work can live a life of its own without the composer’s influence. Suk’s youthfully playful Scherzo from 1903 immediately won the favour of musicians, critics, and the public as a representative example of music as art for its own sake (l’art-pour-l’art) and as a manifestation of remarkable invention, wonderful handling of motifs, and masterful orchestration.
Piano Concerto No. 3
The Piano Concerto No. 3 by Béla Bartók comes from the end of the life of the world-famous composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. In October 1940 Bartók fled to the USA to escape the Nazi menace in central Europe. He struggled with worsening leukaemia, and he underwent an artistic crisis lasting several years. It was only in 1943 that his work began to pay off thanks to a commission from Koussevitzky for an orchestral work (Concerto for Orchestra). Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto (1945) was intended as a birthday gift to his second wife Ditta Pásztory-Bartók.
The composer and violinist Tibor Serly visited Bartók in September 1945 at his friend’s apartment in Manhattan the last night before he was taken to hospital. He found Bartók in bed surrounded by medicine bottles and manuscript paper, trying to finish the orchestration of a concerto. In a desperate struggle against time, the composer’s son Peter was helping him by marking bar lines on blank sheets of manuscript paper. At the very last minute, Bartók was writing sketches for a seventh string quartet, and his thoughts were also fixated on another concerto, this time for two pianos. He told the doctor at the hospital “I am only sorry that I have to leave with my baggage full.” At the end of the score of the piano concerto is an inscription by the composer in his native language that says it all: “vége” (the end). Bartók died on 26 September 1945 at New York’s West Side Hospital. He did not manage to finish scoring the last seventeen bars of the Third Piano Concerto, so his friend Serly did it for him on the basis of the composer’s comments and sketches. The concerto was premiered on 8 February 1946 at a concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy with György Sándor at the piano.
In spite of his poor health, Bartók wrote a work full of vitality and originality. The concerto is conceived on a neoclassical ground plan, including the layout of the tempos and motifs. The musical themes of the opening Allegretto reminds us of Bartók’s eternal inspiration from folk motifs, but their handling is highly sophisticated and fully employs the technical advances of the twentieth century. The first section of the second movement, Adagio religioso, is a variation on a theme from Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 132, the “Heiliger Dankgesang”. The second section is at a brisker tempo and is a typical example of Bartókian “night music”, which is intended to set a nocturnal mood and to evoke the mysterious through the imitation of sounds of nature. The third movement, Allegro vivace, affords the soloist the most opportunities for brilliant display, and its motivic material again returns to folk roots. Here, contrapuntal technique combines with daring instrumental strokes and surprising turns of harmony, keeping the listener in suspense until the final chord.
Scherzo triste op. 5
The second half of the programme also begins with an orchestral scherzo. The composer is Pavel Haas, brother of the famed actor Hugo Haas. The Scherzo triste for large orchestra, Op. 5, was written in 1921 in Brno in the composition class at the Master School of Prague Conservatory, where Haas was one of the first students. During the summer semester of that year, Professor Leoš Janáček was lecturing on “complicating composition” and motifs, and in connection with this material, he gave orchestral composition assignments. The first version of the work, the symphonic poem Majales, reflects the environment of the school. In the composition, Haas dealt with his own sad experience of unrequited love in the setting of a park beneath Špilberk Castle: “A great garden with the breath of springtime and love... My soul is restless like a stormy sea, my heart tossed like an abandoned, unending desire, as sorrowful as the setting sun... Darkness – evening – spring evening – sorrowful evening... The stars shine like my only hope... She did not come... Again one of those evenings when a person loses faith in love, live, and everything...” The teacher made drastic changes to the score, so the original version underwent substantial revisions in both Janáček’s and Haas’s hands. The work was premiered on 12 November 1926 at a concert of the Orchestral Society in Brno, and it was dedicated to the conductor Břetislav Bakala. The similarity to Janáček’s music of this period is striking. The lyrical passages and playful rhythmic ideas are reminiscent of music from the opera The Cunning Little Vixen, as is the solo violin, which is an important element of the scherzo’s orchestration.
Taras Bulba, rhapsody fororchestra
Janáček also made use of solo violin in the symphonic rhapsody Taras Bulba, which brings today’s programme to a close. The orchestra is augmented by organ and by expanded wind and percussion sections, giving the composer a sonic arsenal suited to depicting the monumental, dramatic fresco. His inspiration was the novel with the same title by N. V. Gogol set in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Orthodox population of the Ukraine repelled attacks by the Turks and attempts by Polish nobility to occupy their territory. The Cossack Taras Bulba kills his son Andriy for having betrayed his country because of his love for a Polish girl. His second son was martyred in enemy captivity, and Taras himself was burned at the stake.
The work was first heard on 9 October 1921 at the National Theatre in Brno with František Neumann conducting the orchestra. For the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Army, the composer dedicated the work to the Czechoslovak armed forces with the justification: “... that you are protecting not merely our earthly estates, but also our entire world of ideas.” A year later, the rhapsody was awarded a state prize, and two weeks later, on 9 November 1924, it was played for the first time by the Czech Philharmonic with the conductor Václav Talich in Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague. In the printed programme for the concert, Janáček responded to the question of what had been his impulse for composing the work: “Not because he killed his own son for having betrayed his country – Part I (The Dubno Massacre), and not for the martyr’s death of the second son – Part II (Warsaw Agony); it is for the words ‘not on this earth will one find flame and torment that could destroy the power of the Russian people’, spoken by the great Cossack Hetman Taras Bulba as he was engulfed in sparks and flames on the pyre – Part III and conclusion – that I composed this rhapsody in 1915–1916 based on the legend by N. V. Gogol.”
Janáček was not alone in placing hopes in cooperation with Czechoslovakia’s big brother to the east during of the First World War. The dreams of Slavic solidarity dissipated quickly, however, to the extent of the Czech political and cultural community’s sensitivity in grasping the post-war and post-revolutionary developments in Russia. The composer’s sympathies were gradually recast into critical realism, which he shared with Masaryk, but he did not cease to love Russian literature. From Ostrovsky’s novel The Storm he fashioned an uncompromising indictment of society’s hypocrisy, and at the end of his life he depicted the oppression and suffering of mankind in an operatic treatment of Dostoyevsky’s novel The House of the Dead. In this respect, the symphonic poem Taras Bulba is the last truly Romantic, idealised manifestation of Janáček’s Russophile tendencies.