Andrés Orozco-Estrada and Leif Ove Andsnes
20 May 2017
Leif Ove Andsnes
Macbeth, op. 23 (21 min.)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G minor, op. 40 (29 min.)
Leif Ove Andsnes Piano
Romance in D-flat major, op. 24, No. 9 (5 min.)
Leif Ove Andsnes Piano
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47 (57 min.)
Andrés Orozco-Estrada in conversation with Philipp Bohnen (13 min.)
When Sergei Rachmaninov played the solo part of his Fourth Piano Concerto on 8 December 1930 with the Philharmonic in Berlin conducted by Bruno Walter, the highly complex work had already been revised twice. When the hoped-for success also failed to materialise in the German capital city, another revision followed; the correction process dragged on, however, since Rachmaninov, who had advanced to become one of the most sought-after and best-paid piano virtuosos in American exile, used every free minute to play concerts: “The blood vessels on my fingers have begun to burst; bruises are forming.” What the audience then heard at the belated premiere of the third and last concert version on 17 October 1941 (Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra), had little to do with the rest of Rachmaninov’s late work, which is preponderantly gloomy and subdued: instead, it was spontaneous and full of strong colours. Moreover, the work, which is permeated with delicate lyricism, proved to be extremely innovative since, for the first time in the history of the concerto genre, each of the three movements is structured as an artfully through-composed variation form. The Berliner Philharmoniker present Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, Philharmonic artist in residence in the 2010/11 season, whom the New York Times has called “a pianist of magisterial elegance, power, and insight”.
The conductor is the Colombian Andrés Orozco-Estrada, trained in Vienna, who is giving his Philharmonic debut at this concert. After all, the current head of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, who is also music director of the Houston Symphony and first guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is among the most promising orchestra heads of the younger generation: already in 2004, when Andrés Orozco-Estrada first gained international attention by stepping in at short notice with the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich in the Viennese Musikverein, he was celebrated by the press as the “miracle of Vienna”. After the interval, Andrés Orozco-Estrada programmed Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a work which generated euphoria from the premiere audience in Leningrad: “When the thunderous applause shook the columns of the Philharmonic Hall, the conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky held up the score over his head, as if to say that these ovations were not due to him and not to the orchestra, but to the creator of this music – Shostakovich.” (Alexander Glumov).
“Mad and benumbing for the most part”
Strauss, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, Linked by Their Powerful Effect on the Audience
Richard Strauss: The Tone Poem Macbeth op. 23
In the good old days, when people still argued passionately about new music, when concertgoers still had reason enough to become euphoric and courage enough to protest at the top of their voices, in those wonderful days a young man from Munich caused quite a stir. He was rather loud, and the response to his works was no less resounding. Until then Richard Strauss had preferred to stand on the sidelines in the conflict between the supporters of Wagner and Brahms, and after Wagner’s death in 1883 the noise of battle gradually subsided. Strauss composed absolute music, without a programme: two symphonies, a violin and a horn concerto, a burlesque for piano and orchestra. That actually branded him as a member of the Brahms faction. In 1886 the young composer suddenly changed fronts and published his symphonic fantasy Aus Italien, a solid piece of work that did not cause an uproar.
Three years later, however, with Don Juan, he set off real fireworks that made him famous overnight and shook the music world. A genre that had long been considered dead was ingeniously rejuvenated: the programmatic tone poem. Strauss would not have had to finally join the phalanx of a rearguard that was no longer aesthetically relevant as a result – in fact, the opposite happened. He took on the leadership of the avant-garde and was regarded as the most modern composer of his day. This change in direction did not start with Don Juan, however, but with Macbeth, for Shakespeare’s material had interested him longer than the depiction of the notorious seducer. Strauss had already tried out a preliminary version of his Macbeth in Mannheim and Meiningen in 1887. He soon decided to revise the work drastically, however, and presented it publicly in Weimar in 1890. The piece was reworked again for printing. The revisions were made on the advice of his great mentor Hans von Bülow, the legendary chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Strauss avoided giving a synopsis of the content of his music. But anyone who attributes the wildly flashing opening bars in dark D minor to the usurper Macbeth and the shifty F sharp minor theme in the flutes and clarinets to his murderous wife is on the right track. Strauss removed all doubt by writing a Shakespeare quotation in the music: “Lady Macbeth: Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear ...” The ominous, cruelly flickering atmosphere is maintained throughout the piece, although several Wagnerisms are conspicuous. Bülow praised the work after the Berlin premiere in 1892 as “mad and benumbing for the most part, but a work of genius at the highest level”.
Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, op. 40
Sergei Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto demonstrates that not only novice composers suffer from revisionitis, the compulsion to make continual changes. It was composed mostly in 1926 but is based on several sketches from the pre-war period. After a private performance in August 1926 the composer himself complained about the exceptional length of the work, the confusing mass of thematic material and the omnipresence of the orchestra, which is never silent. The reviews and the negative reaction of the audience after the premiere in Philadelphia in 1927, as well as his own misgivings, prompted Rachmaninov to make extensive changes. Despite the corrections, which dragged on until 1941, the problematic work remained unsuccessful. It was still overshadowed by the Second and Third Piano Concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody.
How unfair! What in Rachmaninov’s entire oeuvre could be more deeply filled with youthful enthusiasm and yearning than the first theme, ascending twice in eight-part piano chords, rising like a hymn above the orchestral parts, which quaver with anxious triplets! What could be more exciting than waiting for its return, which does not occur until the end of the first movement, this time assigned to the violins! The C major Largo is one of Rachmaninov’s loveliest, most original inspirations. Only the last movement still exhibits the often-criticized fragmented structure in places. Rachmaninov’s fast-paced life in American exile was blamed for that. Since the end of 1918 he had undertaken lengthy tours, sometimes giving 25 concerts within six weeks, which gradually brought his work as a composer to a standstill. This restlessness may be heard clearly in the Fourth Piano Concerto. What becomes more apparent, however, is the nostalgia that was already characteristic of Rachmaninov, the yearning for a Russia that had long since ceased to exist.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47
While Rachmaninov dreamed of his lost homeland in California, Dmitri Shostakovich dreamed about music in Crimea. At least that is how he usually explained the composition of the Largo from his Fifth Symphony: the theme came to him in a dream. When he returned to Leningrad from Crimea in early June 1937, three movements of the new symphony were already completed. Ten days later the phase of nightmares, persecution and mortal fear began. From then on Shostakovich waited to be taken away and killed at any moment. He did not join the opposition; his resistance was composing. Work on the Fifth Symphony was interrupted only briefly, and it was already completed by mid-July.
The Leningrad premiere in November 1937 involved considerable risks; since the scandals over the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his Fourth Symphony, Shostakovich was high on Stalin’s blacklist. The new work would decide his fate. It was not the dictator who made the decision, however, but the public. In both Leningrad and Moscow the audience gave the composer incredible ovations, and several enthusiastic reviews were published. Shostakovich was temporarily rehabilitated.
Passionate emotion, poignantly beautiful melodies and a harmonic language familiar to the listener make the Fifth Symphony radically different from its avant-garde predecessor. Although unconventional forms are chosen here, although the first movement has three themes and is polyphonically and contrapuntally very demanding, that never presents problems in understanding. The juxtaposition of lament and parodistic alienation is puzzling, however. The three-part, seemingly humorous Allegretto is also accessible at first hearing, despite its complexity, but an overbearing Ländler tone and strangely offbeat harmonies provide an ambiguity that should not be taken lightly. In the third movement the lament escalates to an accusation. Sorrow and resignation are expressed with an intensity and a romantic aura that were not encountered in Shostakovich before. The closing Allegro non troppo immediately shouts down such delicacy ruthlessly. Shostakovich not only carried bombast to the point of self-exposure here but also incorporated a hidden message into the score, namely a self-quotation from his Pushkin Romances, op. 46. The poem “Rebirth” is about a philistine who paints over the painting of a genius, but gradually the cheap colours fade and the original work emerges again in all its beauty. The following lines from the song are quoted in the symphony: “Thus the delusions fall away / from my tormented soul, / and there spring up within it / visions of my former innocent days.”
Leif Ove Andsnes was born on the Norwegian island of Karmøy in 1970 and studied at the Bergen Conservatory under Jiří Hlinka and in Belgium with Jacques de Tiège. At the age of 19, he made his debut in New York and Washington, as well as afterwards at the Edinburgh Festival with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariss Jansons. The foundations of a successful career were laid, and as early as 1992, Leif Ove Andsnes performed in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts for the first time. Further debuts followed in Japan (1993), Paris (1996), London (1997) and Zurich (1998); since then, he has given regular piano recitals in many famous concert halls, and has performed with leading orchestras and conductors all over the world. Moreover, Leif Ove Andsnes is an enthusiastic chamber musician. For nearly two decades he was Co-Artistic Director of the Risør Festival of Chamber Music in Norway. Among his prizes and awards are the Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, the Peer Gynt Prize by the Norwegian government, the London Royal Philharmonic Society Award and – on more than one occasion – the German Record Critics’ Award. Leif Ove Andsnes is a professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, and an honorary professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. He is also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In the 2010/11 season he was pianist in residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker, and most recently he gave a piano recital in February 2014 with works by Beethoven.