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Also appearing in this year’s exclusive recital series is Lukáš Vondráček, a young performer who is highly acclaimed around the world and who can often be heard in concerts with top orchestras. In our recital series you will hear the winner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels.
Piano Sonata in A major, D 959 (38')
Johann Sebastian Bach
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 (18')
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 (20')
Lukáš Vondráček piano
Following recent debuts with the Chicago, Pittsburgh and London symphony orchestras, Lukáš Vondráček has a season packed with highlights ahead of him. In 2021/22 he will debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at Hollywood Bowl and return to renowned orchestras such as Baltimore and Chicago symphony orchestras, both under the baton of Marin Alsop. Elsewhere Lukáš Vondráček will appear with Orchestre National de Lille conducted by Lionel Bringuier, Warsaw Philharmonic as well as the Turku and Malmö symphony orchestras. Recital projects will take him to the Rudolf Firkusny Piano Festival at Prague’s Rudolfinum and the Kissinger Summer Festival. He will take his residency with the Janáček Philharmonic into the next season and continue his recording cycle of all Rachmaninov Piano concertos with Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Over the last decade Lukáš Vondráček has travelled the world working with orchestras such as the Philadelphia, Tasmanian and Sydney Symphony orchestras, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt Symphony Radio Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and Oslo Philharmonic under conductors such as Paavo Järvi, Gianandrea Noseda, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Marin Alsop, Christoph Eschenbach, Pietari Inkinen, Vasily Petrenko and Jakub Hrůša, among many others. Recitals have led him to Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, the Flagey in Brussels, Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, Wiener Konzerthaus or to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
At the age of four Lukáš Vondráček made his first public appearance. As a fifteen-year-old in 2002 he made his debut with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy which was followed by a major US tour in 2003. After finishing his studies at the Academy of Music in Katowice and the Vienna Conservatoire, he obtained an Artist Diploma from Boston's New England Conservatory under the tutelage of Hung-Kuan Chen, graduating with honours in 2012. His natural and assured musicality and remarkable technique have long marked him out as a gifted and mature musician. He has achieved worldwide recognition by receiving many international awards, foremost the Grand Prix at the 2016 Concours Reine Elisabeth in Brussels.
Franz Schubert began composing his first piano sonata shortly after his 18th birthday. He later worked on more than two dozen sonatas. However, he completed only fourteen ones, of which only three were published during his lifetime. Throughout Schubert’s career, his compositions were not very well known to the public and publishers showed little interest in them. His pieces could be enjoyed only by a limited circle of artists, friends and acquaintances who gathered during the so-called Schubertiades. Even many years after Schubert’s death, his sonatas did not commonly became part of the repertoire of concert pianists.
Piano Sonata in A major, D 959, is one of three major sonatas composed during 1828. Schubert completed them in the last weeks of his life, when his health was failing him completely. All three sonatas were published ten years after the composer’s death by Anton Diabelli – with a dedication to Robert Schumann, who was instrumental in spreading Schubert’s music. Piano Sonata in A major, with its loose form and lyricism, at times teeters on the edge of improvisation and gives an impression of piano fantasy. The imposing chordal opening of the first movement (Allegro) has an urgency that contrasts sharply with the lyrical melody of the second theme. The slow second movement (Andante) in F sharp minor is in ABA form. The quiet reverie, like a boat bobbing on the water, is broken by the dramatic middle section in C sharp minor. Just before the return of the main theme of this movement, we hear what sounds like a distant reminder of Impromptu in G flat major, D 899, from the previous year. The playful Scherzo is characterized by abrupt key changes and inspiration from the Austrian folk dance Ländler. The concluding Rondo, where the pianist’s two hands alternate in the delivery of the melody, stands out with extraordinary grace. Here Schubert used thematic material from the slow movement of his Piano Sonata in A minor, D 537, from 1817.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826, dates from 1726. At that time, the composer had already been living in Leipzig for three years, where he held the post of cantor at the St. Thomas School. His duties required him to compose mainly music to be heard during regular services and on various church festivals. Of course, he also composed secular music, including a number of pieces for keyboard instruments. Many of these were also used in his teaching. Partita No. 2 in C minor is one of a set of six partitas for harpsichord that Bach published on his own in 1731, labeling them as his Opus 1. It was the first of planned four volumes of his Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice). The second volume contained Italian Concerto and French Overture; the third, compositions for organ; and the fourth, the Goldberg Variations. (With the exception of the third volume, these were pieces for harpsichord with one or two manuals.) With the first volume, Bach to some extent followed a similar project by his predecessor as cantor at St. Thomas’s, Johann Kuhnau, who had published two volumes of his partitas as “keyboard exercises” several decades earlier. However, Bach’s four-volume collection surpassed in scope and complexity everything that had been written for keyboard instruments up to that time. Nevertheless, the composer approached publication with caution. Before the publication of the complete set of partitas, he tested the interest in them by first publishing them separately between 1726 and 1730 in order to reduce the financial cost and risk as a publisher.
These six partitas (BWV 825–830) represent the pinnacle of Bach’s music. The usual scheme of a dance suite in each partita is complemented by a different opening movement and also – to use Bach’s words – various Galanterien. Partita No. 2 in C minor concludes with such a short characteristic piece. Its opening movement consists of a Sinfonia with a dramatic first section (Grave adagio), a lyrical middle section (Andante) and a fugal conclusion. This is followed by an Allemande in 4/4 time with a distinctly polyphonic texture. This dance is followed in Bach’s partita by a three-beat Courante, which is similar to the actual dance that was once performed in the ballroom. The main motif of this sprightly movement evokes a fast tempo, which is in fact related to the very name of the dance (from the Latin currere – to run). The Sarabande, a dance originally from Spain, popular at the French court, here takes on a very melancholic character. After the energetic, mischievous Rondeau, the whole partita concludes with what is probably the most famous part of the entire score: the ingeniously constructed Capriccio, which places considerable technical demands on the performer.
Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, dates from his first creative period when he was mainly devoted to composing for piano. It is one of three sonatas for this instrument (not counting his three sonatas for youth from 1853). Schumann initially considered a career as a piano virtuoso, but was prevented from doing so by a hand injury, which proved to be chronic. Major piano works from this period include Carnaval, Symphonic Studies, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, and the Fantasie in C. The young Schumann’s intellectual and emotional world was strongly influenced by two prominent figures of German Romanticism: the writers Jean Paul and E. T. A. Hoffmann. In his writings, Schumann created a fictional world which he populated with fictional characters forming the Davidsbündler (The League of David). Its two central members represented the duality of the Dionysian and Apollonian – the energetic Florestan and the thoughtful, often dreamy Eusebius. Schumann perceived the same polarity in himself. Under these two pseudonyms, which were known only to close friends, he also published some of his articles in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, of which he was editor-in-chief from 1834.
Schumann wrote his second piano sonata to a large extent between 1833 and 1835, but the slow movement had already begun to emerge in 1830, when he composed a small piece for piano, Papillote, in Heidelberg. He then developed the same theme in the slow movement of the above-mentioned sonata into three variations ending with a coda. (He first used the melody in a slightly different form in his song Im Herbste from 1828, which was not published until after his death.) After completing the final Rondo in October 1835, he revised all the previous movements, but especially the first, which he modified several times until 1838. The last, yet significant, revision of the sonata occurred just before it was printed by Breitkopf & Härtel, when Clara Wieck (pianist and Schumann’s future wife) wrote to him in a letter that the last movement was too complicated for most of the public. Schumann agreed with her opinion and composed a new, simpler finale to the sonata. He also reworked the first movement once again, largely returning to the original version of 1833. The genesis of this sonata was certainly not straightforward, but it shows a strong internal coherence thanks to the thoughtful motivic work across the movements.