Concert Piece for Four Horns and Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 for the first time, this is a concert of true rarities.
In 1849 Robert Schumann familiarised himself with the valve-operated French horn and immediately recognised the limitless opportunities it presented. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing both his Concert Piece for Four Horns and Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 for the first time, making this a concert of true rarities.
One of the most celebrated representatives of the Russian conducting tradition, Vassily Sinaisky (b. 1947) first studied the piano, violin and double-bass yet went straight into the conducting class of Ilya Musin on entering the Leningrad Conservatory. He began his career as an orchestral conductor as assistant to Kiril Kondrashin with the Moscow Philharmonic, but after winning the Karajan Competition in 1973 was Chief Conductor of the Latvian National Symphony 1976–1987. As Music Director of the Moscow Philharmonic 1991–1996 he established a firm reputation for his readings of Russian repertoire and other major appointments followed: Music Director of the Russian State Orchestra 2000–2002 and Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Bolshoi Theatre 2010–2013. He was Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic 1996–2012 and is Conductor Emeritus of the BBC and Malmö orchestras.
Vassily Sinaisky first conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978, and most recently in 2017.
As a youngster, Ville Hiilivirta imagined the French horn would be the easiest brass instrument to play, until the truth dawned. “The Concert Piece is a real tour de force for the horn player. It’s gruelling while demanding infinite agility. Meanwhile, the four horns should sound like a single instrument.” Hiilivirta has led the French horns in the Helsinki Philharmonic since 2010.
Miska Miettunen had the offer of joining three leading Finnish orchestras and does not regret choosing the Helsinki Philharmonic. He has often performed the Concert Piece. “Schumann clearly liked the instrument, but in many respects it’s infinitely demanding. The top horn goes extremely high at times and demands agility and dexterity of all the players.”
Joonas Seppelin reckons that being a soloist with his own orchestra and close colleagues will be one of the highlights of his career. “We’ve got to know each other’s style of playing and interpreting and will, I’m sure, achieve an extremely bold and homogeneous performance.” Seppelin has been a regular in the ranks of the Helsinki Philharmonic since 2011.
Mika Paajanen first played in the HPO in 1996. He has not previously performed the Concert Piece but is very familiar with it. He even travelled to Berlin especially to hear it. The top part, he says, goes way above what is usually required of the horn, but the whole piece is extremely well written. Performing it could almost be called a sporting achievement.
Carl Maria von Weber: Oberon, Overture
Though modelling his own music on that of Mozart and Classicism, Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826) had a strong influence on the Romantic composers and was greatly admired by Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Wagner and Debussy. In 1826, though suffering from tuberculosis, he ignored his doctors’ warnings and travelled to London to attend the premiere of his opera Oberon commissioned by the Royal Opera. He there conducted the rehearsals and performances and led an active social life. The audience liked the opera, but the critics said the melodies were drowned by the massive accompaniment. He therefore decided he would revise the score when he returned to Germany, but the doctors were right: he should never have travelled and died while still in London at the age of 39.
Oberon is based on a medieval French story about the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and his beloved Titania, and it has a happy ending.
Robert Schumann: Concert Piece for Four Horns and Orchestra, Op. 86
Not all the music composed by Robert Schumann (1810–1856) in the 1840s reflected the turmoil in his mind at that period in his life, as proved by the Concert Piece for Four Horns of 1849. He seemed to have had a great likening for the sound of the French horn – now equipped with valves, making it more versatile than the ‘natural’ horn – at that time, for the following year he composed an Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano and a song cycle for male choir and four horns.
The Concert Piece is highly virtuosic and could well be called a concerto. For years, the solo parts were considered so difficult as to be virtually impossible to play. They do not, however, pose superhuman challenges for tonight’s soloists.
The Concert Piece is in three movements. The first is in sonata form and marked Lebhaft, meaning ‘Lively’. The second, Romanze, is a lyrical mood piece and leads without a break to the Sehr lebhaft (Very lively) finale.
Edward Elgar: Symphony No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 63
The first symphony by Edward Elgar (1857–1934) having been a great success, expectations ran high at the premiere of his second in 1908. But the reception was not as expected. “Henry, they don’t like it, they don’t like it,” he exclaimed to the conductor Henry Wood, and shortly after complained to another that the audience “sit there like a lot of stuffed pigs”. A number of reasons have been sought for the lukewarm reception. One is the dreamy ending instead of the triumphant climax the audience expected. Whereas the underlying mood of the first symphony was optimistic throughout, Elgar made it clear that “I have written out my soul in the Symphony No. 2 and you know it.” Attached to the score was a verse by Shelley: “Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight! Wherefore hast thou left me now? Many a day and night? Many a weary night and day ‘tis since thou art fled away.” And again, “I have shown myself” in the symphony, and the lack of enthusiasm it inspired left him deeply depressed.