20.00 Symphonic Concert
Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall
- Concerto for orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven
- Piano concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (Martha Argerich)
Manuel de Falla
- Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain) (Nelson Freire)
Ludwig van Beethoven
- Piano concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 (Federico Colli)
About the programme [+]
Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra was written in 1950–1954, at the request of Witold Rowicki, for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra that Rowicki had founded. The initially modest concept grew into a largescale symphonic work lasting around thirty minutes, and it came to form the crowning opus of the ‘folkloristic’ period in Lutosławski’s oeuvre. After the very first performance, which took place on 26 November 1954, it was already clear that a work of monumental significance had been written. An ideal balance between melodic charm, rhythmic dynamism and visionary colouring was harnessed to a strictly contrapuntal discipline modelled on Classical formal logic. The work’s fantastic success, which has continued to the present day, with the Concerto for Orchestra being performed by leading orchestras around the world, was received by the composer with characteristic distance. Ten years after its world premiere, he told an audience in Hamburg: ‘For me, writing a whole series of “functional” works based on folk themes became an unintentional opportunity to elaborate a certain style – admittedly narrow and one-sided, but quite characteristic. It involves primarily combining simple diatonic motives with chromatic, non-tonal counterpoints, and also with non-functional, variegated harmonies. Also characteristic of this style are the rhythmic processing of those motives and the polymetre that arises from their combining with accompanying elements. Becoming aware of all this suggested to me at that time the idea that my “marginal” style was not entirely impractical and might possibly be used to compose something weightier. Folk material and all its consequences were employed in the Concerto for Orchestra. Here, the folklore was merely the raw material for the construction of a large work of music in several movements, by no means derived from folk song or dance. Thus, somewhat unexpectedly – even for me – a work arose that I could not omit to number among the most important in my compositional oeuvre.’ He sheds light on this restrained commentary in the conclusion: ‘after the Concerto, I wrote only one more work based on folkloristic material: the Dance Preludes for clarinet and orchestra. Subsequent works – Musique funèbre, Jeux vénitiens, Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux – are marked, finally, by everything that had long since been the object of my study and meditation, and that has nothing to do with folklore’. So Lutosławski belittled the success of his Concerto for Orchestra by pointing to his later compositions as being more worthy of attention… The monumental, highly complex form, based on Baroque and Classical models, was developed from very simple folk thematic material, taken from the Mazovia collection of Oskar Kolberg’s source anthology. Movement I, Intrada, derives its theme from the song ‘A cyje to kuniki’ [Whose horses are these?], before turning to the theme of ‘A gdziez mnie odjezdzas, Walusieńku panie?’ [To where are you leaving me, Mr Walusieniek?]. In movement II , Capriccio notturno e arioso, which is actually a kind of symphonic scherzo with trio, we find the melody of ‘Przeciężgnę się siwą gołębicą’ [I’ll turn into a grey dove]. The culmination, and the most elaborate movement, Passacaglia and Toccata, makes diverse use of the song ‘A cy mi tu dziwna zona, mam ich siedem, ósma doma, hola hola hej hej’ [What curious wife is this? Seven of them have I, an eighth at home, hola hola hey hey]]. The map of the melodic borrowings is interesting enough, but truly intriguing is the graphic image of their deployment, creating a strict order that is worthy of the design of a Bach fugue. The dynamism and charm of the Concerto for Orchestra overshadow Festiwalowa its other qualities, namely the birth of new compositional ideas that would be fully developed in later works by Witold Lutosławski. Foremost among them is the ‘chain’ method, employed in the Passacaglia, and there is also a visible outline of the binary form with introductory first movement and dominant second movement. The first two movements of this Concerto are a modest portent of the monumental finale, more powerful than both of them together. For Lutosławski, composing the Concerto for Orchestra was akin to working off arrears. Fate interrupted his compositional work with war and Stalinist terror. Consequently, he was unable to verify, at the right time, the practical consequences of the neoclassical doctrine that dominated the first half of the century. Now, everything was clear to him in that respect, and he had no further need to concern himself with it. As Andrzej Chłopecki rightly adds: ‘in that regard, the Concerto is a singular event in the history of music: it combines elements of neo-Baroque (understood as part of neoclassicism, in general terms) with folklore’.
The first ideas for the triptych Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), ultimately completed in 1916, date from 1909, when Manuel de Falla intended to give that title to a set of nocturnes written with his pianist friend Ricardo Viñes in mind. At the latter’s suggestion, the composer decided to score the cycle for orchestra and ‘colouring’ piano. The works were written in Paris, where the young Spaniard drew on the advice, models, inspiration and friendship of the big movers in new music (in particular Debussy, Ravel and Dukas). He marked his distinctive voice with references to his native folklore. Years later, he gave this comment on the Noches: ‘I was so far from Spain that I painted those nights perhaps more beautiful than they are in reality; that is connected with Paris’. This music illustrates a succession of nights in different characteristic locations in Spain: first in the Generalife, the former residence of the Arab rulers of Granada, where reminiscences of Andalusian music are merged with Arabic elements. Danza lejana (Distant Dance) takes place in an unidentified, but undeniably exotic, location. The last piece, En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordoba), is suffused with dance rhythms, and only in the early hours of the morning does it slip into the seductive cantilenas of the violins. De Falla subtitled the work ‘Symphonic impressions for piano and orchestra’. The first performance was given in Madrid in 1916.
Sergey Prokofiev composed his Third Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 26 over a period of four years, and gave its first public performance in Chicago on 16 December 1921. Its reception was rather cool, but that did not prevent the work from enjoying a glittering career, launched a year later with a performance in Paris under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. Still today, it remains one of the most frequently performed of Prokofiev’s works. The composer, with such radical works as Fleeting Visions, the Scythian Suite and the humorous ‘Classical’ Symphony already to his name, created a composition that, thanks to its relative simplicity and legible references to Russian folklore, had a chance of avoiding the accusation of formalism. It is a feature worth noting, since Prokofiev’s real confrontation with the demands of socialist realism would not occur until more than a decade hence. Each of the three movements draws on folk lyricism: the opening Andante in the introduction, the middle Variations in the fourth episode and the finale Allegro in the atmospheric central section. Yet the Third Concerto is dominated by the element of dance – often also of traditional Russia folk provenance – that prevails throughout the work, including in the middle movement, which is usually reflective and slow. The virtuosic élan of the solo part is backed by the no less effective role of the orchestra, which is expanded to almost symphonic proportions. The distinctive rhythms, sharpened articulation, pungent, often parodistic, harmonies, lively rhythms and contagious sense of humour – all elements typical of Prokofiev – go to make up a work that is captivating in its buoyancy and its remarkable charm. At the time it was written, this composition was received as incredibly modern, and still today it remains emblematic of its times. Of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos, only the Third was recorded by the composer, thanks to which we can also admire the might of his pianistic talent. Wholly understandable is the interest this work aroused among the greatest pianists of the last century, such as William Kapell, Van Cliburn and Byron Janis; yet among the titans of the piano, perhaps its most faithful exponent over recent years has been Martha Argerich.
The composing of the Variations on a Theme of Paganini is associated with the most sombre episode in the biography of Witold Lutosławski – the five-year period of his life in Germanoccupied Warsaw. The destruction of the whole of Polish cultural life forced the composer, like most Polish artists, to seek unconventional solutions. Thus was born the piano duet Lutosławski- Panufnik, earning a crust by performing in those Warsaw cafés that were accessible to Poles. For those purposes, these two excellent composers produced over two hundred arrangements of light, popular music, but also of ambitious concert works (e.g. Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky). Lutosławski’s arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor, written in 1941 and first performed in the Aria café, was probably one of the more successful, given that the composer, when moving with his mother to Komorów, prior to the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising, took with him only that score and his sketches for the First Symphony. The several hundred works left in their Warsaw apartment shared the fate of the city – they went up in flames. It should be stressed that the original material of Paganini’s composition – the theme of the Allegro capriccioso in A minor and the eleven variations crowned with a finale – was retained by Lutosławski intact. His arrangement involves transferring the virtuosic violin concept to two pianos and ‘arraying’ it in new harmonic, textural, timbral and expressive attire. It is a thoroughly twentieth-century attire, cut with a mastery that matches the violin original. After the war, from the time of the work’s first performance on Paris Radio in 1948 (played by Geneviève Joy-Dutilleux and Jacqueline Robin-Bonneau), it became increasingly popular, ultimately becoming a genuine ‘hit’. There has perhaps never been a more ambitious piano duo that has not included Lutosławski’s Variations in its repertoire. The composer was as embarrassed by this success as he was contented. He would certainly have preferred to have seen such interest in his serious orchestral works, which brought new ideas to twentieth-century music; on the other hand, as a born virtuoso pianist, he was pleased by the success of this striking trifle, which provides ample testimony to his former virtuosic skills. It is interesting to compare the original version for two pianos with the later (thirty-seven years later) version for piano and orchestra. That version was produced by Lutosławski at the request of the pianist and harpsichordist Felicja Blumenthal, who first performed this score a year later, in Miami, accompanied by the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra under Brian Priestman. It is a slightly longer version, since some of the episodes played on the two pianos simultaneously have to be played here by a single pianist, and so consecutively. Of crucial importance, however, is the aura created by the orchestra – refined, aware of its new possibilities, richer for the composer’s extra decades of experience. It is worth pointing out that under the fingers of a born pianist, as Witold Lutosławski undoubtedly was, the solo use of the piano combines the finesse of the compositional ideas with true, joyful virtuosity. We happen to know that Lutosławski modelled such an approach on Chopin.