23 Apr 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker
Tugan Sokhiev

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

  • Gabriel Fauré
    Pelléas et Mélisande, orchestra suite, op. 80 (20 min.)

  • Maurice Ravel
    Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G major (27 min.)

    Jean-Yves Thibaudet Piano

  • César Franck
    Symphony in D minor (41 min.)

  • free

    Jean-Yves Thibaudet in conversation with Andreas Ottensamer (17 min.)

“Unfortunately,” says Tugan Sokhiev, “conductors are inundated with clichés, and not just we Russian ones. Italian conductors are supposed to first be able to conduct Italian repertoire, German composers German pieces. Why is that? If I have something special to say about Russian music, then it’s because of my very deep relationship to a specific piece. But I may be able to say just as much to one by Brahms or Strauss.” And about works of the French repertoire, with which Tugan Sokhiev guest conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in the 2015/2016 season!

The programme includes Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande – an orchestral suite written in 1898 from the incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama of the same name; its modal harmonies completely fit the archaism of the action. Its final form took shape only about 20 years after its composition, as Fauré expanded the work to include the Sicilienne, the fifth of the pieces in the stage music. In this form Pelléas et Mélisande developed into one of the Fauré works that is played most often, whereby the original stage music continues to be used for performances of the drama. In addition, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, “surely the coolest pianist on the planet” (The Herald), takes on Maurice Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto – music that just sparkles with esprit in which shimmering cascades of sound, “the nasal tattoo of jazz” (Alexis Roland-Manuel), syncopated accents and sudden fanfare sounds are swirled around in pulsating motion.

After the interval, Tugan Sokhiev presents his interpretation of César Franck’s D minor Symphony. In its first movement, the French composer fools his listeners harmonically with a “double tonality” shimmering between D minor and F minor; the slow movement and the Scherzo are fused into a single Allegretto; and the Finale takes up the themes exposed in the previous movements like a recapitulation in the sense of the French “forme cyclique”.

Symbolism, Virtuosity, Classicism

Music from France by Fauré, Ravel and Franck

Gabriel Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande, Suite op. 50

Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1892 drama Pelléas et Mélisande is the classic example and high point of Symbolism, the late-19th-century French literary movement that saw itself as a counter-current to Realism and Naturalism. The Symbolists were hostile to “plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description” (Le Symbolisme, the manifesto by Jean Moréas) and sought to create their own art-world. They conceived their creations as word-art in an onomatopoetic, symbolic language imbued with musicality. At the same time their goal was to “clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form”. The crucial element in Maeterlinck’s tragedy is not the events being related but the characterization of an inner world, the psychic reality and psycho-logic of the persons who enact them. Much vagueness is in play here, intimations and moods rather than a clearly structured dramaturgical action. The actual subject – as in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – is an impossible love, one that flouts convention and cannot find its fulfilment on earth.

The first musical treatment of this subject to reach the public was by Gabriel Fauré. During a visit to London in 1898 the celebrated English actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell persuaded him to write incidental music for the first British production of Maeterlinck’s play. Having barely a month for the composition, he was compelled to work economically, and so he utilized existing material such as the Sicilienne from his 1893 incidental music to Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Moreover, Fauré prepared only a short score – a sketch for the orchestral version – and entrusted its instrumentation (a task he always found arduous) to his pupil Charles Koechlin. From the 19 pieces of incidental music, Fauré distilled a suite consisting of the Prélude, La Fileuse and Entr’acte that had its first performance in Paris on 3 February 1901. 20 years later he added the Sicilienne as No. 3, and it is in this four-movement form that the compilation is generally heard in the concert hall today. The essentially tranquil, undramatic music captures very well the mysterious, nebulous atmosphere and ambiguity of Maeterlinck’s drama.

Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major

In 1928 Ravel, who was also an outstanding pianist, made a tour of North America, giving some 30 concerts there in the course of four months. This success encouraged him to plan a piano concerto for a second North American tour. The tour never materialized, but the following year he conceived two concertos: one in G major for himself to play – though it was ultimately premiered by the French-music champion Marguerite Long – and one in D major for the left hand alone, commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I. Intervening before their composition was Ravel’s first visit to Spain, the country that played such an important role in his music. Also in 1929 his native town of Ciboure, in the French Basque country, honoured him by renaming a street “Quai Maurice Ravel”, and in 1930 the nearby seaside resort of Biarritz mounted a Ravel festival. By 1931 the scores of both concertos were complete.

Passages in the G major work recall Igor Stravinsky and George Gershwin, and the work has hints of Basque and Spanish music; yet it is also highly classical and at times almost resembles chamber music. In the first movement’s exposition alone, five themes are presented: “Basque” and “Spanish” ones as well as three “jazz” themes. Bitonality gives a special edge to the opening, which is launched by a whip-crack noise, and this impression is reinforced by ostinato passages in the piano part. The cadenza is preceded by solo appearances from the harp and then woodwind playing harp-like runs.

As in Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto K. 491, the second movement is dominated by two “soloists”: the pianist and the woodwind. Long stretches of this Adagio assai are more like a solo movement for piano with instrumental accompaniment. Commentators are divided over its classical model: the composer himself identified it as Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, while some writers have been reminded by, for example, the beginning of Fauré’s Ballade for piano and orchestra. The extended opening theme, simple and intimate, is partly taken up again in a dialogue between cor anglais (English horn) and piano, and is heard once more in the movement’s quasi-cadenza, now played by muted strings.

The finale is a fast, boisterously witty Presto in rondo form. Opening with drums and a brief fanfare, the exposition presents three themes: the first like a shrill whistle, the second syncopated, the third marchlike. The development section contains elaborate figuration for the bassoons and strings. In the foreshortened recapitulation, the opening themes alternate rapidly in ever-changing orchestration. The movement ends as furiously as it began.

César Franck: Symphony in D minor

Franck, whose chief instrument was the organ, composed his most significant works in the last quarter of his life, particularly after 1875. In addition to operas and sacred music, he produced numerous organ and chamber pieces, including the popular Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata and String Quartet. His symphonic compositions include Les Djinns, the Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra, Les Éolides, Le Chasseur maudit, Psyché and, most famously, the Symphony in D minor. Dedicated to Franck’s pupil Henri Duparc, it is an especially successful example of cyclical form. A “motto” that serves as the work’s thematic germ cell is deployed in all three movements. Like his contemporaries Brahms (First Symphony) and Tchaikovsky (Fourth and Fifth Symphonies), Franck follows in the footsteps of their great model Beethoven who, in his Fifth and Ninth, concluded a minor-key symphony with a finale in the tonic major.

Franck’s only symphony begins with a heavy, “questioning” three-note motif on cellos and basses and an “answer” on woodwind (Lento). The ensuing Allegro non troppo utilizes this motto-like main theme. Between the exposition and development, Franck repeats the whole first part, but transposed from D minor to F minor. The Lento theme comes back again in the recapitulation and at the end of the movement. The Allegretto at the centre of the symphony functions as a combination of slow movement and scherzo. Beginning with an outline of the main theme on harp and pizzicato strings, this elegiac idea is then stated by the cor anglais over a countermelody on violas. The lyrical Trio section is ushered in by the strings. In the finale, Franck eschews a demonstration of his contrapuntal mastery, instead juxtaposing the different thematic ideas, linking them and taking up the symphony’s principal themes again in reverse order. The movement proper begins after a pithy introduction with the bassoons and cellos giving out the D major theme, whose derivation from the second part of the motto theme that begins the symphony is clearly recognizable. A chromatic string passage leads to the return of the cor anglais theme from the second movement. The work ends with a gradually built-up orchestral tutti.

Helge Grünewald

Translation: Richard Evidon

Tugan Sokhiev hails from Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, and studied with Ilya Musin at the St Petersburg Conservatory, while also attending the conducting classes of Yuri Temirkanov. In 2000 he won the main prize in the Third International Prokofiev Competition, an award that led to his appointment as principal conductor of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the North Ossetia State Philharmonic. Among the international opera companies with whom he has appeared since 2002 are the Welsh National Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and the Teatro Real in Madrid. He made his debut at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2004 with Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges. Sokhiev has been music director of the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse since the autumn of 2008, having been the orchestra’s principal guest conductor and artistic adviser since 2005. He took on the position of Music Director of Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with the start of the 2012/13 season. Furthermore, he was appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and Orchestra in January 2014. In addition to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra where Tugan Sokhiev has close artistic connections, he is also a much sought-after guest conductor all over the world. His debuts conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2009 and at the beginning of 2010 respectively, were immediately followed by invitations to return; in recent years, he made highly successful debuts with the Chicago and London Symphony Orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Tugan Sokhiev last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2014 conducting works by Lyadov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is from a musical, Franco-German family and was born in Lyon. He received his first piano lessons when he was five, made his public concert debut when he was seven, and at the age of twelve, he began to study piano at the Conservatoire de Paris under Aldo Ciccolini and Lucette Descaves. As a 15-year-old, Jean-Yves Thibaudet won the Premier Prix du Conservatoire, and three years later, the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York City. Today, he is one of the most sought-after pianists of our time and has gained a large following all over the world as a concert soloist and sensitive accompanist. This season, Jean-Yves Thibaudet is artist in residence with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles. He has recorded more than 50 CDs, many of which have been awarded prestigious prizes (including the Diapason d’Or, the Choc du Monde de la Musique, the Gramophone Award, the Echo Award). In 2007, the musician received the Victoire dʼHonneur, the highest award of France’s “Victoires de la Musique” for his lifetimeʼs work. Previously a Chevalier of the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres”, Thibaudet was promoted to the title of Officier by the French Minister of Culture in 2012. In Berliner Philharmoniker concerts, Jean-Yves Thibaudet was heard for the first time in December 1996 as part of a recital with Cecilia Bartoli; with the orchestra itself, he appeared most recently as the soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in February 2003, conducted by Mikko Franck.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet records exclusively for Decca Records.

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