Bridging the solo piano opening concert and the orchestral finale, this Saturday evening Crescendo concert seeks to mediate the distance between the intimate and the symphonic.
As the ensemble grows in number, we imagine an internal voyage from infancy to adulthood, starting with the masterly miniatures of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenenas his reflections on the universe of childhood. Chamber works from young hands, those of the ‘mere teenagers’ Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff, lead the audience towards a highlight of this year’s festival with the premiere of resident composer, Pierre Audiger’s quartet for piano, cello, percussion and electronics. The Crescendo concert culminates with Cesar Franck’s late work, a mature and intoxicatingly beautiful Piano Quintet
In March, 1838 Robert Schumann wrote: “You once said to me that I often seemed like a child…. I suddenly got inspired and penned around 30 quaint little pieces…. I chose several and titled them Kinderszenen. You will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuosa when you play them.” The virtuosa in question, the most celebrated in her time, was, of course, his wife-to-be, Clara Wieck.
As in his vast output of songs, Schumann’s ability to produce perfect gems from the simplest of ingredients is very evident in his Scenes from Childhood. The opening five notes appear and reappear in various guises throughout the work. Though the composer claimed that titles were only added later, they have become inseparable from the music, which has the narrative thread of a wordless song cycle. The seventh of the thirteen pieces, Traeumerei, is by far the best known of the set and occupies a place as one of the most loved of all melodies for piano.
The youthful Brahms made several attempts to introduce himself and his music to the Schumann household before eventually turning up on their doorstep in Duesseldorf with a bundle of his early piano pieces in October 1853. Invited to play, the impact of his extraordinary talent on both Robert and Clara was immediate and profound. A regular guest in the house, Brahms soon became a close friend of the couple and their children.
An early fruit of this newly found bond was a collaboration conceived as a gift for their mutual friend, the great violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms, Schumann and his pupil Albert Dietrich would together write a sonata for violin and piano. Joachim, at the first performance, would guess who had written what, a task he accomplished without the least difficulty.
Brahms’ personal contribution, his Sonatensatz, was the fiery and passioned scherzo in C minor we hear this evening.
One of the giants among the pianists of the twentieth century, Sergei Rachmaninoff was internationally renowned firstly as a composer and conductor, while turning to the concert platform in his middle ages.
He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory at the age of nineteen as a proud recipient of the coveted Great Gold Medal. The Trio Elegiacdates from this period and shows exceptional inventiveness in structure, texture and harmonic imagination. The opening melody is clearly a tribute to Tchaikovsky, the first theme of the great master’s popular piano concerto appearing in inverted form. Already the writing evidences a unique voice, forging new paths of expression while honouring the roots and traditions of the past.
Part of tonight’s concert and inspired by Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune”, the commissioned quartet, freely depicts a cosmic journey through the rites and excitements of the young human becoming an adult. Paul Atreides awakens through the thresholds of his epic destiny, survives the enemy’s treasons, finds his way by leading the Fremen people and becomes the Kwisatz Haderac, the Messiah to rule the universe’s production of Spice. It is therefore a piece about a life’s ‘crescendo’ while promotingideas of higher destiny, fate and prophecy.
The piece will go through several stages of growth through improvisation and electronic sequences, as well as reading excerpts from Frank Herbert’s Dune.
As Brahms’ Scherzocame about through Schumann’s invitation and the figure of Tchaikovsky gave breath to Rachmaninoff’s Trio, it was the composer and fellow organist Saint-Saens who played his part in the creation of this evening’s final work, the Piano Quintetin F minor by the Belgian master Cesar Franck. For the first premiere, which the younger Frenchman agreed to give, a hand-written score was prepared with the inscription “To my friend Camille Saint-Saens”.
Whether it was the work’s tonal daring or, as some have claimed, a “lack of subtlety in the piano part”, Saint-Saens is said to have demonstrated his disdain for the piece by abandoning this personalised copy on the piano once the performance was over.
Now recognised among the greatest, if least often played, compositions for piano and strings, this momentous opus brims with restless passion and yearning. It represents the fifty-seven-year-old Cesar Franck at the height of his creative power.