Czech Philharmonic / Valentin Radutiu
In September 2017, the Czech Philharmonic performs two concerts at the George Enescu Festival in Bucharest, Romania.
Nikolaj Znaider performs at the highest level as both conductor and virtuoso violin soloist with the world’s most-distinguished orchestras. He has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Mariinsky Orchestra Saint Petersburg since 2010, and was previously Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
Following a triumphant return to the BBC Proms with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann, 2016/2017 season sees Znaider embark on a new project, recording all of the Mozart violin concertos, directed from the violin with the London Symphony. He has a particularly strong relationship with the LSO; an orchestra he conducts and performs as soloist with every season.
Both as conductor and as soloist, Znaider is interested in deepening his connections with key orchestras where he feels a special bond, working regularly with orchestras such as the Staatskapelle Dresden, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw, Detroit Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Washington National Symphony, and Munich Philharmonic orchestras.
Znaider’s extensive discography includes the Nielsen Concerto with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, Elgar Concerto in B minor with the late Sir Colin Davis and the Staatskapelle Dresden, award-winning recordings of the Brahms and Korngold concertos with Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic, the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 and Glazunov Concerto with Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and the Mendelssohn Concerto on DVD with Riccardo Chailly and the Gewanghaus Orchestra. Znaider has also recorded the complete works of Brahms for violin and piano with Yefim Bronfman.
He is passionate about supporting the next generation of musical talent and spent ten years as Founder and Artistic Director of the annual Nordic Music Academy summer school.
Nikolaj Znaider plays the “Kreisler” Guarnerius “del Gesu” 1741 on extended loan to him by The Royal Danish Theater through the generosity of the VELUX Foundation and the Knud Højgaard Foundation.
Shostakovich was indirectly inspired to compose Cello Concerto No. 1 by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. When in 1952 he heard him perform Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Op. 125, in his mind he was conceiving a composition of the same kind for him ever since. He wrote it in the summer of 1959 in just 40 days, and like Prokofiev used the classical form of concerto, allowing the soloist to show off all of his art. The result is one of the most important and most difficult works for cello in concertante literature.
The score is dedicated to Rostropovich, who performed it for the first time on 4 October 1959 with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The concerto contains introspective and autobiographical elements, of which the most striking is the musical motif of DSCH (consisting of the notes D, E flat, C and B natural in German musical notation pronounced as “De-Es-Ce-Ha” = D-mitri Sch-ostakovich). With the exception of the second movement it appears throughout the whole composition and is transposed to G, F flat, C flat, B flat (i.e., it stands out from the frame of the main key). It is heard at the very beginning of the first movement in the cello part and is repeated with the orchestra playing it after in an almost grotesque way.
The second movement is the most extensive and the most cantabile of the whole composition; the third movement has the form of a solo cadenza, but as can be expected, a larger and more autonomous one. The final rondo is played continuously within the ABAC scheme and again employs the DSCH motif, first in fragments and eventually in the full form in the horn part. The concerto ends with coda, rich in effects.
For Dvořák, 1889, in which he finished Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, was a successful year indeed. He was offered the post of professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory and the National Theatre premiered his opera The Jacobin. The general interest in his music was further boosted by his fruitful visits to England.
Dvořák was absorbed in work on his Eighth Symphony from 28 August to 8 November, with the bulk of the time spent at his summer residence in Vysoká, the place he felt the most at ease. Yet the idyllic creative atmosphere was disturbed by a dispute with his “chief” publisher, Simrock, which ultimately resulted in an interruption of their co-operation for three years. Dvořák’s opus 88 was hence published by the London-based Novello. The symphony was subsequently given the subtitle “English”. In its basic features – four movements and their tempo scheme – Dvořák’s Eighth retains the structure of a classical symphony. Nevertheless, the work is striking owing to numerous innovations and a varied succession of changing moods. As the composer himself put it, he strove to treat themes and motifs in other than the “usual, universally used and acknowledged forms”.
Symphony No. 8 was premiered, with Dvořák himself conducting, on 2 February 1890 at the Rudolfinum in Prague within the popular Umělecká beseda society concerts. On 24 April of the same year it was performed in London at a Philharmonic Society concert at St. James’s Hall. An English reviewer wrote: “Although, just like Brahms, striving to adhere to the Beethoven school, Dvořák is the only one who is able to employ a distinctly new element in a symphony.” The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick described the piece as follows: “This is one of Dvořák’s finest pieces……His works demonstrate an original personality, and this personality breathes the refreshing spirit of something novel and original.”
Noteworthy too is Dvořák’s commentary following the London premiere: “The concert turned out splendidly, dare I say as well as any other before… I was called several times to the stage – by and large, it was as nice and sincere as at the premieres at home in Prague. So I am satisfied and thank God that it has turned out so well!”
Johannes Brahms started work on his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77 in 1878. He dedicated the piece to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim (1831–1907), who was born in Kopčany near Bratislava (in today’s Slovakia). Brahms first heard the young violinist in 1848, when he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Brahms’s native city, Hamburg. Five years later, the two artists met again in Hanover, and began a life-long friendship. Though only two years Brahms’s senior, Joachim was already renowned in the musical world as a performing artist. It was he who introduced Brahms to Robert Schumann, who predicted that the young Hamburg-born composer would have a great future and praised his talent by declaring that he would take music on “new paths”.
When composing, Brahms placed his full trust in Joachim’s advice. The cadenza at the end of the first movement of the concerto, then still an opportunity for soloists to display their technical brilliance, was left entirely to Joachim’s own imagination. The structure of the concerto itself, however, was strictly of Brahms’s own making, and the work that resulted defies the conventions of the virtuoso concertos of its time. Brahms goes beyond the conception of an instrumental concerto – where the technical and expressive artistry of the performer play the main role – towards a symphonic conception. The work is not remarkable for its virtuoso brilliance; the solo part is integrated into the orchestral sound. For instance, the second movement is opened by a solo from the oboe, while the soloist waits a relatively long time for their entry. The first movement has much in common with the first movement of Brahms’s second symphony, composed concurrently; indeed the two sections share the same key. The second movement of the concerto continues to impress today with its lyricism, while the third, particularly, with its “Hungarian” character, is typical of Brahms.
Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) avoided composing symphonies for a long time. In the musical environment of the 1920s and 1930s in Paris, in which he was firmly established in his youth, the symphony was considered a form of Romantic relic and local composers tried to write for less common instrumental ensembles. Martinů composed his first symphony as late as at the age of fifty-two in America; from that time on he returned to this form almost every year. Of the total number of his six symphonies, the most popular and most frequently performed is Symphony No. 4. Martinů created it in the spring of 1945, full of joy and optimism about the end of war hardships and in the hope that he would soon return to his homeland. He was convinced that this was his last major composition in the American exile before his imminent homecoming to Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, the subsequent events showed that these expectations were in vain.
The joyful first movement Poco moderato is reminiscent of a Baroque suite by being structured into two sections. However, the work with motifs and harmonic processes are far from Baroque music and stands with both feet in the realm of contemporary music. The second movement has the form of a fierce dance scherzo with the contrasting lyrical middle section. It is followed by the dreamy, heartfelt Largo of the third movement. The optimistic tone of the whole symphony is accentuated by the final Poco allegro.
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