United Kingdom Glanert, Dvořák, Rautavaara: Midori (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Thomas Søndergård (conductor). Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 6.11.2021 (GT)
Einojuhani Rautavaara – ‘Swans Migrating’ from Cantus Arcticus, Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, Op. 61
Detlev Glanert – Violin Concerto No.2 ‘To the Immortal Beloved’
Dvořák – Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’
This concert took place during Glasgow’s fortnight-long COP26 Conference, and this event motivated this programme somewhat with a piece dedicated to nature, and one of the most celebrated symphonies – somewhat hopefully, the harbinger of a new safer world. For the Einojuhani Rautavaara piece, the hall was in almost complete darkness as we heard tapes of swans creating an outlandish and mysterious idiom before slowly the lights came on. Thomas Søndergård then appeared at the rostrum and the violins led by Maya Iwabuchi intoned a sad reflective harmony on shimmering strings, leading to the clarinet of Timothy Orpen introducing a wonderful idea before the full orchestra joined in with the music rising to a tremendous crescendo and then slowly dissipating into silence as the swans flew away into the distance. This was a magnificently evocative and moving piece, but it would have been more fitting if the whole of Rautavaara’s piece Cantus Arcticus was heard.
The world premiere of Detlev Glanert’s Second Violin Concerto was to have been presented last season, however, it fell victim to the worldwide pandemic. The piece is a four-way commission involving the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Suntory Hall, the NDR Elbphilharmonie, and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic. The work is based on Beethoven’s correspondence with an unknown young woman – ‘The Immortal Beloved’ – and reflects his passion, desire and sadness at the unfulfilled love affair. Glanert’s work is based on three letters written in July 1812 – in the morning, evening and the following morning. The composer writes, ‘I tried to translate Beethoven’s “composed” letter into music in a free way into my own music, mainly with two different sound complexes: one is connected to all self-descriptions of the real world, the other is to the emotional and personal level. If we read the letter carefully between the lines, it is a big “adieu” to the beloved one, and the ending is the most personal and moving goodbye ever written.’ Glanert further explains that the soloist has a role which represents both the composer and his beloved, and that rather than choose the piano as his instrument, he decided to model the concerto on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto as he considers the violin more of ‘a breathing instrument’, and that the piano would be too ‘Beethoven-like and dominating’. The Glanert Violin Concerto No.2 was fortunate to have a UN Messenger for Peace, Japanese/American Midori, to give the first performance in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall the night before.
At the beginning of the first movement (Sostenuto) we heard a wonderful solo from the cor anglais of Henry Clay which was soulful and reflective, followed by the lower strings joining in the theme, while the violins introduced a more romantic secondary idea heard against the strains of the muted trumpet of Christopher Hart. Midori then introduced an elegiac refrain, and the piece took the form of a series of soliloquies in concert with different sections of the orchestra, at one time with the percussion group, with the harp, strings, brass, and in the second movement (Adagio molto) the interchanges began rising to an increased tempo in a prolonged passage of great beauty and mesmerising force. This swayed from rhapsodic passages to lyricism and there was extended cadenza of great intensity from Midori which was followed by a great thump on the timpani. In the third movement (Allegro) we entered a dark world intoned on the low strings and with the mood espoused by the whole orchestra rising to waves of great intensity with rare emotion and feeling expressed by soloist and orchestra in rapturously dramatic passages which slowly – ever so slowly – disappeared into silence.
This is a fine work – lasting for three quarters of an hour – but may prove difficult to enter the modern repertoire, especially since it requires a highly technically gifted soloist, nevertheless the Glanert Second Violin Concerto deserves repeated performances and hopefully recordings. Certainly, the next performance will be on 10 December in Hamburg by the Elbphilharmonie which will continue the work’s progress through the music world.
The programming of the ‘From the New World’ Symphony concludes the series of Dvořák symphonies by the RSNO which began last season; my only complaint, if any, is that we could have been allowed to hear the early symphonies, too often we are spoiled by the late works from the great composers, but perhaps this is something for the RSNO to consider in future seasons.
Once named as his Fifth Symphony, Dvořák’s valedictory work – if not his finest – is certainly the most popular for its melodic beauty and easily remembered tunes. The opening theme of the Adagio- allegro molto was announced magnificently by Christopher Gough on the horn and followed by Adrian Wilson’s oboe before the strings majestically picked the theme in all its glory. The secondary idea of a dance-like theme was followed by Harry Winstanley’s flute – on his best form – playing a tune with a kinship to the spiritual ‘Swing low, Sweet chariot’ heard here against the violins in a pianissimo passage. Rather than hints of Native American music, the symphony is more redolent of Bohemian folk melodies than American, and Wilson’s oboe was magnificent in bringing out the colourful harmonies. The theme of longing continued into the second movement (Largo) with especially fine playing again from Clay’s cor anglais. In the third movement (Scherzo: Molto vivace – Poco sostenuto), a transient passage of an idyllic scene was followed by a rustic and joyful village dance from Bohemia, with the notably central European nostalgic theme intertwined. In the finale (Allegro con fuoco) the fortissimo trumpets and horns introduced an idiom of heroic resolve, and we heard once more a reprise of the longing themes from the earlier movements, and the comic idea of ‘Three Blind Mice’ intermingled among the orchestral sections, before the brisk passage leading to the joyful culminating bars of the glorious E minor coda.