Gems, Jewels & Masterpieces

Saturday, October 14, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m. | Santander Performing Arts Center

Beethoven

Leonore Overture No. 3

Elgar

Cello Concerto

  • Julie Albers, Cello

Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 5

The Reading Symphony Orchestra opens its 2017-18 season with three classical masterworks, including Beethoven’s powerful and intensely dramatic Leonore Overture No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s striking Symphony No. 5. Soloist Julie Albers joins the orchestra for Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Praised by the Providence Journal for her “sweet tone and tender phrasing,” Ms. Albers takes on this richly introspective and elegiac work that was composed in reaction to World War I.

About the Soloist

American cellist Julie Albers is recognized for her superlative artistry, her charismatic and radiant performing style, and her intense musicianship. In addition to solo performances, she has appeared with many leading orchestras and ensembles, and in chamber music festivals around the world. She is currently the principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and an active member of the Albers String Trio and Cortona Trio.

Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b……………… Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Composed in 1806
Premiered on March 29, 1806 in Vienna

The most visible remnants of the extensive revisions to which Beethoven subjected his Fidelio between 1804 and 1814 are the four overtures he composed for the opera. For the first version, written in 1804-1805, Beethoven wrote the Overture in C major now known as the Leonore No. 1, utilizing themes from the opera. The composer’s friend and early biographer Anton Schindler recorded that Beethoven rejected that first attempt after hearing it privately performed at Prince Lichnowsky’s palace before the premiere, so he composed a second C major overture, Leonore No. 2, and that piece was used at the first performance, on November 20, 1805. The opera foundered. Beethoven was encouraged by his aristocratic supporters to rework the opera and present it again. The second version, for which the magnificent Leonore Overture No. 3 was written, was presented in Vienna on March 29, 1806 but met with little more acclaim than its forerunner. In 1814, some members of the Court Theater convinced Beethoven to revive Fidelio yet again. The new Fidelio Overture, the fourth he composed for his opera, was among the revisions. The Leonore No. 3 distills the essential dramatic progression of the opera into purely musical terms: the triumph of good over evil, the movement from darkness to light, from subjugation to freedom, is integral to this music.

Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85………………………… Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Composed in 1918-1919
Premiered on October 27, 1919 in London, conducted by the composer with Felix Salmond as soloist

It seemed that Elgar’s world was crumbling in 1918. The four years of World War I had left him, as so many others, weary and numb from the crush of events. Many of his friends of German ancestry were put through a bad time in England during those years; others whom he knew were killed or maimed in action. The traditional foundations of the British political system were skewed by the rise of socialism directly after the war, and Elgar saw his beloved Edwardian world drawing to a close. (He resembles that titan among fin-de-siècle musicians, Gustav Mahler, in his mourning of a passing age.) His music seemed anachronistic in an era of polychords and dodecaphony, a remnant of stuffy conservatism, and his 70th birthday concert in Queen’s Hall attracted only half a house. The health of his wife, his chief helpmate, inspiration and critic, began to fail, and with her passing in 1920, Elgar virtually stopped composing. The Cello Concerto, written just before his wife’s death, is Elgar’s last major work, and seems both to summarize his disillusion over the calamities of World War I and to presage the unhappiness of his last years.

Large sections of the Concerto are given over to solitary ruminations of the cello in the form of recitative-like passages, such as the one that opens the work. The forms of the Concerto’s four movements only suggest traditional models in their epigrammatic concentration. The first movement is a ternary structure (A–B–A), commencing after the opening recitative. A limpid, undulating theme in 9/8 (Moderato) is given by the lower strings as the material for the first and third sections of the form, while a related melody (12/8, with dotted rhythms) appears first in the woodwinds in the central portion.

The first movement is linked directly to the second (Allegro molto). It takes several tries before the music of the second movement is able to maintain its forward motion, but when it does, it proves to be a skittering, moto perpetuo display piece for the soloist. It is music, however, which, for all its hectic activity, seems strangely earth-bound, a sort of wild merriment not quite capable of banishing the dolorous thoughts of the opening movement. The almost-motionless stillness of the following Adagio returns to the introspection of the opening movement. It, in the words of Herbert Byard, “seems to express the grief that is too deep for tears.” The finale, like the opening, is prefaced by a recitative for the soloist. The movement’s form following this introductory section is based on the Classical rondo, and makes a valiant attempt at the “hail-and-well-met” vigor of Elgar’s earlier march music. Like the scherzando second movement, however, it seems more a nostalgic recollection of past abilities than a display of remaining powers. Toward the end, the stillness of the third movement creeps over the music, and the soloist indulges in an extended soliloquy. Brief bits of earlier movements are remembered before a final recall of the fast rondo music closes this deeply thoughtful Concerto.

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64……… Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Composed in 1888
Premiered on November 17, 1888 in St. Petersburg, conducted by the composer

Tchaikovsky was never able to maintain his self-confidence for long. More than once, his opinion of a work fluctuated between the extremes of satisfaction and denigration. The unjustly neglected Manfred Symphony of 1885, for example, left his pen as “the best I have ever written,” but the work failed to make a good impression at its premiere and Tchaikovsky’s estimation of it tumbled. The score’s failure left him with the gnawing worry that he might be “written out” and the three years after Manfred were devoid of creative work. It was not until May 1888 that Tchaikovsky again started collecting “little by little, material for a symphony,” he wrote to his brother Modeste. He worked doggedly on the new symphony, ignoring illness, the premature encroachment of old age (he was only 48, but suffered from continual exhaustion and loss of vision), and his doubts about himself. He pressed on, and when the Fifth Symphony was completed, at the end of August, he said, “I have not blundered; it has turned out well.”

The structure of the Fifth Symphony progresses from minor to major, from darkness to light, from melancholy to joy — or at least to acceptance and stoic resignation. Its four movements are linked by a recurring “Fate” motto theme, given at the beginning by clarinets as the brooding introduction to the first movement. The sonata form starts with a melancholy melody intoned by bassoon and clarinet. A romantic tune for the strings, an aggressive strain given in dialogue between winds and strings, and a languorous string melody round out the exposition. All of the materials from the exposition are used in the development. The solo bassoon ushers in the recapitulation. The Andante calls to mind an operatic love scene. Twice, the imperious Fate motto intrudes upon the starlit mood of this romanza. A flowing waltz melody dominates much of the third movement; the central trio exhibits a scurrying figure in the strings. Quietly and briefly, the Fate motto returns in the movement’s closing pages. The finale begins with a long introduction based on the Fate theme cast in a heroic mood. A vigorous exposition, a concentrated development and an intense recapitulation follow. The long coda uses the motto theme in its major-key, victory-won setting.