Both works in this concert with Donald Runnicles represent the brilliance of the art of orchestration at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century – and yet they could be hardly more contrasting in terms of expression and attitude. For while Edward Elgar’s First Symphony impresses with its nobility and sensitivity, Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote is, not least, a biting satire.
Don Quixote’s skewed perception of the world, the clash of his dreams and an incomprehensible reality give Strauss the opportunity for wonderfully ironic effects – but also to create a differentiated characterization of the tragicomic hero. Strauss’s Don Quixote is represented by a solo cello, played here by Ludwig Quandt, principal cellist with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1993. Amihai Grosz, principal violist with the orchestra since 2010, gives voice to Sancho Panza.
As in Don Quixote, in Elgar’s First Symphony we experience a wide range of expression: triumphant grandeur, delicacy, and even the hymn-like rapture which helped Elgar’s march Pomp and Circumstance to world fame. Elgar’s personality shines through again and again as a unifying element – the sensitive gentleman who with this symphony, wanted to send a message of “great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future.” The premiere, given in Manchester, was conducted by Hans Richter, who was also a regular guest with the Berliner Philharmoniker. For him, the symphony represented “the greatest symphony of modern times, written by the greatest modern composer – and not only in this country.”