Partos: Concertino for String Orchestra Schumann: Cello Concerto Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 5 (“Emperor”)
The 2019-20 season’s opening concerts are Maestro Zubin Mehta’s last before his retirement. As a personal tribute to him, a host of stars and close friends of the Maestro and Orchestra are set to perform. In this concert, as part of the closing festivities of the Jubilee celebrations, we hear Ödön Pártos Concertino for Strings, Schumann Cello Concerto, played by Mischa Maisky, and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 ("The Emperor"), with Rudolf Buchbinder.
The Concertino for Strings by Ödön Pártos opens the concert. Pártos, who was the principal violist of the orchestra during its first two decades, painted the work in shades that indicate his origins: Hungarian folk music. One year after the concertino's premiere, Pártos received the Israel Prize in music for his work "Ein Gev," becoming the first composer to receive the prestigious award.
Robert Schumann's life can certainly fit into an image of an anguished artist who digs from the depths of his feverish imagination to create great art. An artist whose volatile life, full of drama and suffering (a life dedicated to beauty and music but also to incessant struggles in mental illness) finds expression in eternal works. The Cello Concerto in A Minor—dramatic and beautiful, volatile and touching—is a great example of this.
Schumann's choice of cello as the solo instrument in the concerto is quite surprising.
No important composer since Haydn had written for the instrument, and Schumann was not a cellist (although for a brief period, when a fourth finger injury prevented him from playing piano, he played a little cello), and yet, given the instrument's character and the composer’s personality, it seems to be a natural fit as the cello gives the combined possibilities of expressive singing qualities and “sturm und drang” (storm and stress). Schumann wrote the concerto and his Symphony No. 3 "Rhenish” while serving as music director of the Dusseldorf Orchestra. He composed the concerto in a single month.
Schumann's concerti are evidence of a dialogue he, like many other composers, had with traditional musical forms. His two concerti (for piano and cello) are not ordinary in the structural sense. In the cello concerto, the natural flow is most prominent in between the three movements, which are played without a break, and the motivic connection between them, which creates the sense of a complete and unified work. Although this concerto is not necessarily a virtuosic showpiece of fast and powerful playing, it requires expressions of beauty and pain from the performers. For these reasons it is seen by cellists as a wonderful example of a romantic concerto. Schumann himself, by the way, didn't get to hear the concerto in his lifetime. The work was first performed in 1860, four years after his death.
The year is 1809; the place: Vienna. Napoleon's French army forces are narrowing in on the city and deafening artillery sounds can be heard from all sides. "I am surrounded by the noise of guns and drums and the sights of human suffering," Beethoven wrote to his publisher. The composer, who was in the early stages of hearing loss, desperately locked himself in his brother’s house while covering his ears with a pillow.
And yet, even under these difficult conditions, Beethoven was able to write. His 1809 output, alongside the Fifth Piano Concerto, includes among others his Op. 74 quartet and the "Les Adieux" sonata for piano.
The score for his Fifth Piano Concerto, "The Emperor" (a title not given by Beethoven himself), suggests that Beethoven was a man of personal and creative struggles. The typical way of composition was something for Beethoven to rebel against, and during this time, piano concerti were prime form for rebellion—a fascinating laboratory for musical experiments.
The opening of the Fifth Concerto (like that of the Fourth Concerto) presents an unconventional relationship between the orchestra and piano. In the Fourth Concerto the piano melody begins before the entrance of the orchestra; even more extreme in the Fifth Concerto, the piano opens with virtuoso passages, a kind of cadenza at the beginning of the movement rather than at the end. The orchestra acts as a catalyst for this pianistic music, and the piano is seen as resonant and responsive to the concise orchestral statement. Immediately after this cadenza’s sequence, the orchestra plays an extensive thematic exposition, almost symphonic in scope and orchestration. In these moments, listeners already realize the great importance of the orchestra in this work. Not only does it serve as an accompanist, it plays an important expressive role. Further innovations in the concerto can be found in the transition between the second and third movements (where the theme of the second movement undergoes a kind of metamorphosis) and the use of timpani within the piano cadenzas in the first and third movements (which requires the conductor and pianist to be extremely accurate and rhythmically less free). Even though this concerto is mostly associated with the festive "imperial" rhythms, which some may deem as aggressive, in the brass and timpani, it still includes one of Beethoven's wonderful lyrical tunes, which opens the second movement with silent string playing. We find the composer's uncommon use of the term "dolce" - sweetly - in the score.