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This all Beethoven program was a perfect example of the unique programming a music festival can and ought to present. Eastern Music Festival Music Director Gerard Schwarz chose three rarely programed works. Two, from the composer's early orchestral mastery, sandwiched a true rarity – Beethoven's own transcription for piano and orchestra of the great Violin Concerto. Even more imaginatively, Schwarz has begun a tradition of presenting a full sampling of the festival's talented musicians. All three orchestras – the all-faculty, professional Eastern Festival Orchestra as well as the two full-sized Young Artists Orchestras – took their places on Guilford College's Dana Auditorium stage.
Beethoven had an unsatisfactory period of study with Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), and he refused to put the words “pupil of Haydn” on his published works as the older master insisted. Beethoven instead immersed himself in counterpoint studies with Johann Albrechtsberger (1736-1809). However, it was clear that Beethoven had absorbed a great deal from his own studies of Haydn's symphonies.
The Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21, first performaned on April 2, 1801, and published the same year, is clearly modeled on Haydn’s mature symphonic form, to which Beethoven adds unusual and then-daring harmonies, greatly expanded roles for the woodwinds, and barely contained energy. Schwarz is a solid and vital interpreter of the classical repertoire. For this symphony he led the Eastern Festival Orchestra in a rousing performance. It was amazing how quickly these professionals had "jelled" into a seamless ensemble with less than a week of rehearsal. While there is relatively little turnover between seasons, it had been a year since they had played together. The opening dissonances were brought off beautifully, and Schwarz made the most of his refined use of dynamics. The players followed every twist and turn. The second movement might have been slightly slow, but this was repaid by the extraordinary chamber-music-like detailing between the sections. Among the many fine solos were those of oboist Randall Ellis and flutist Les Roettges.
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61, was composed in 1806 and premiered on December 23 of that year by violinist Franz Clement (1780-1842). He was a quick study and a good sight reader which helped since the composer finished just in time. Critics gave it a mixed reception, and it languished until 1844, when the then 18-year-old Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) took it up and championed it. It is now a centerpiece of every violinist's repertoire. One musician in 1807 did recognize its worth. Composer, pianist, publisher and piano-maker Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)* bought the rights to some of Beethoven's music and commissioned the composer to transcribe the violin part for piano. This Piano Concerto in D, Op. 61a, is more than just a transcription. Concertos most often did not have cadenzas since the soloist was expected to make his own. Such was the case with the Violin Concerto. However for its keyboard incarnation, Beethoven not only composed his own cadenzas but, in the first movement, greatly expanded the role of the timpani's four note motif which opens Op. 61 and also wrote an extensive role for it with the piano! This very rarely performed version is fascinating.**
William Wolfram a noted Beethoven interpreter who performed several of the concertos last season, was superb in this "sixth" Beethoven piano concerto. He is especially good at bringing out the heroic and magisterial quality of the composer, and he has power to spare as well as the ability to weave lines of great delicacy. His arpeggios and trills were gorgeous. Schwarz's conducting was superb. Each section of this first of two entirely separate Young Artists Orchestras responded with precise ensemble following every change of tempo and dynamics. This orchestra's concertmaster was Nathan Lowman, from Wilmington, Delaware. The very fine timpanist was not identified.
Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C, Op. 56, for violin, cello, and piano, was composed for his patron and friend, the Archduke Rudolf (1788-1831), son of the late Emperor Leopold II. It was published in 1807 and first performed publically in May 1808. It is, in effect, almost a cello concerto with that instrument introducing themes while the violin plays a more accompanying role much of the time. The piano part is the least demanding, perhaps because of the youth of his piano pupil, the Archduke. The concerto is in three movements. The opening Allegro takes up half of the piece. The lovely Largo begins with an extended cello solo before the violin and piano join. The cello then leads directly into the lively Rondo, based on a Polish dance rhythm.
Schwarz carefully coordinated his second Young Artists Orchestra, obtaining ideal balances between its players and his trio of soloists. Each section of the student orchestra played with excellent ensemble and readily responded to the conductor's demands. The soloists were all faculty members: violinist Qing Li, principal cellist Neal Cary, and pianist Wolfram. They brought a fine sense of the give and take of chamber music to their solo roles. Li and Cary produced warm tones and played with precise intonation. Cary was superb in the Largo, spinning out a seamless melody. Li's solo turns in the Rondo were particularly memorable. The concertmaster for this orchestra was Natalia Hidago from Miami, Florida.
The EMF continues through August 1. For details, see our calendar.
* The Duke University Musical Instrument Collections includes two fine pianos from Clementi's workshop.
** It is interesting to note that violinist Max Rostal (1905-91) made a reverse transcription of Beethoven's Op. 61a piano cadenzas for violin. Two recordings may be of interest. Naxos 8.554288 pairs Beethoven's Op. 61a Piano Concerto with the Triple Concerto. DGG Originals 447403 has the original Violin Concerto with soloist Wolfgang Schneiderhan playing his own violin transcription of the Op.61a piano cadenzas.