Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
Einar Englund: "War Symphony"
Having established his career in the shadow of Sibelius and then served his country in the Second World War, Einar Englund stunned concertgoers70 years ago. His first symphony captured his traumas and those of the nation so credibly that everyone who was in the audience that day became an Englundian. The evening’s soloist, Grammy Award-winning pianist Richard Goode, returns to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra after a break of more than 25 years.
“We didn't really have classical music in our home,” says Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes (b. 1970). “When I was young, gymnastics was my main interest. I was to join the Dutch youth Olympic team, but my mother was opposed to that, so I decided not to continue. I wanted to find another activity, and my best friend at school had just started violin lessons. So I thought, why not me, too?” He joined the Netherlands National Youth Orchestra when he was 14, and went on to study the violin at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam and conducting at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.
His appointment as assistant conductor to Edo de Waart at the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic gave Maestro Renes a good start in his career as a conductor, and a last-minute stand-in for Riccardo Chailly for a televised concert at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw put the seal on his success. This concert was later used as the basis for a documentary about him entitled Dream Debut.
Dividing his time equally between opera and symphony concerts, Lawrence Renes has been Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Royal Swedish Opera since August 2012.
The first American pianist to record all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Richard Goode is widely sought after as a leading expert on the composer. “When you’re immersed in Beethoven, you feel that he’s right in the centre, and everything else is radiating out from him,” he once said in an interview. David Blum, writing in the New Yorker, goes on: “What one remembers most from Goode’s playing is not its beauty – exceptional as it is – but his way of coming to grips with the composer’s central thought.” Indeed, Goode has come to be so closely associated with Beethoven that after a concert, one member of the audience is reputed to have exclaimed, “Mr Goode, you are Beethoven!” to which Goode responded by cupping his ear and asking, “What did you say?”
Everything, says Goode, is written in the score, and every mark has a meaning, firing the imagination. In recent times he has even begun playing from the score in concert, enjoying the full communion with the score and finding it most inspiring.
In 2009, Richard Goode recorded the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) last appeared in public as a pianist in a concert in Vienna in 1808. It was a marathon event, including not only the premieres of his Symphonies 5 & 6, but also the Choral Fantasy, movements from his Mass in C, some improvisation and Piano Concerto No. 4. It must have been a severe trial for the audience: four hours in a freezing hall listening to poorly-rehearsed new music. The Piano Concerto had a good reception, yet it was soon forgotten, for instead of the drama they had been expecting, the audience got intimate, lyrical music.
The first movement opens in an unprecedented way with a short piano solo, and when the orchestra repeats the theme, it does so in a far-removed key. The sonata-form movement ends with a solo cadenza. The enigmatic second movement is only 72 bars long and takes the form of a terse dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Some have claimed (without proof) that Beethoven was inspired by the story of Orpheus (piano) before the Furies (orchestra). The dancing Rondo finale follows without a break.
Einar Englund: Symphony No. 1, War Symphony
War Symphony (1946) was not the title chosen by Einar Englund (1916–1999), but he accepted it because he felt it aptly described the nature of his first symphony, and he had had personal experience of fighting at the front in WWII. Its premiere by the HPO in 1947 was a sensation, partly because its sentiments were familiar to all in the audience, but probably also because of its style. During his student years in England, Englund had favoured a sugary romantic idiom, but this was no longer in harmony with his wartime experiences; instead he adopted a language characterised by satire, intellectuality and an ironic attitude to excessive expressions of feeling. It began a new chapter in the history of Finnish music, distancing itself from the National-Romanticism of former years.
The first movement marches along with a grim, heavy tread, and the second evokes the harsh atmosphere of war. The third has both melancholic and sunny moments, and the finale is lively and boisterous, ending with a triumphant shout at, as Englund put it, having survived the hell that is war.