SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2020 4:00PM
Featuring Kathryne Salo, Flute
Pre-concert conversation 3:00pm
Howard Performing Arts Center, Berrien Springs
Kathryne Salo, principal flutist for SMSO, will dazzle on Ibert’s virtuosic flute concerto. Rounding out the program are Elgar’s piece for strings, Britten’s first musical composition and Mozart’s familiar and iconic symphony.
Elgar, Introduction and Allegro
Ibert, Flute Concerto
Kathryne Salo, flute
Mozart, Symphony No. 40
Introduction and Allegro, Elgar
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for string orchestra was written for a concert of the composer’s music given by the London Symphony in 1905. The recently formed ensemble included a virtuoso string section, whose skills Elgar very intentionally put on full display.
The work contrasts a solo string quartet against the sonority of the full group, just as Handel had in his Concerti Grossi. However, the effect is only sometimes antiphonal in the Baroque manner, the solo lines being more often interwoven into the overall texture.
The formal structure comprises a slow introduction, a sonata allegro in which what Elgar aptly described as “a devil of a fugue” substitutes for the traditional development section, and a recapitulation. The haunting theme first heard on solo viola in the introduction was said by the composer to have been a quotation of one he heard sung in the distance while on holiday in Wales.
The Sinfonietta was Britten’s first published work, written in just under three weeks in the summer of 1932, whilst he was still a student at the Royal College of Music. Scored for wind quintet and string quintet (or small string orchestra), the work is remarkably assured and points directly to some of the more ‘mature’ works of Britten’s early period (Frank Bridge Variations etc). The choice of ensemble seems to suggest a link to the Schoenberg First Chamber Symphony (1906), which Britten was certainly aware of at the time. It was perhaps because of this that many of Britten’s RCM professors deemed the work unsuitable for performance (the RCM and the Second Viennese School did not mix in the heady days of the 1930s). Despite this, it would be Britten’s only work from his student days to be performed at the college, even though the premiere had taken place some two months earlier at a Macnaghten‐Lemare concert (an enterprising avenue for new British works performed at a small theatre in Notting Hill Gate). For all the perceived influence of Schoenberg (is the opening horn solo directly related to the Chamber Symphony?) the overriding feeling, especially in the second movement, is restrained pastoralism. Titled ‘Variations’, the second movement would be one of the few occasions where Britten would follow on from his musical fore‐bearers; (does one hear a Lark Ascending at one point?) though this is possibly no surprise in a work dedicated to his teacher, Frank Bridge. Perhaps unsurprisingly Britten’s approach to form in the Sinfonietta is very original, very mature. In the opening movement the opening bars (possibly just the opening clarinet melody) present the themes that will provide material for the whole work. We can view the opening movement as in sonata form, but with a second development replacing the conventional recapitulation – a Britten favourite from the 1930s (and from other times, String Quartet No.2 etc). Carrying on the formal innovations and thematic economy, the second movement’s theme for the variations is taken from the second subject from the first movement (first found in the flute at fig. 6). It is perhaps the third movement, ‘Tarantella’ which can be visibly seen and heard to be the most “Britten‐ish” with its choice of dance form, though possibly not worn comfortably, linking it directly to the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937). Again, the formal scheme is unusual, with many of the themes from the previous movements returning, to a form of summation. The opening horn solo returns to herald a move to a tonal centre of D, the first subject returns to form the background to the pizzicato fugato section. Sinfonietta is undeniably Benjamin Britten, though perhaps one of the final works by the ‘boy’ composer. Although forward looking, it probably has more in common with the Simple Symphony then the Frank Bridge Variations or Les Illuminations. However there is plenty to admire in this work, if not for the remarkably confident instrumental writing and handling or formal schemes; then for the rhapsodic beauty of the second movement. Note reprinted by kind permission of Phillip Cooke
Flute Concerto, Ibert
Jacques Ibert was a composer who unashamedly embraced the idea that music should be fun, as his wonderfully quirky Divertissement, the colorful Escales, and the present concerto amply demonstrate.
He was also completely uninterested in joining the partisans of either “Expressionism” or “Impressionism” - the reigning musical movements of the time. Instead, he borrowed as he wished from every tradition, writing music that is as unfailingly colorful and exquisitely crafted as it is undogmatic.
The Flute Concerto was written for Marcel Moyse, one of the instrument’s greatest ever exponents in terms of both technical skill and musical imagination. The composer exploited the opportunity thus presented by providing three contrasting movements, a classically elegant allegro, a lyrical slow movement, and a finale filled with bravura fireworks.
Symphony no. 40, Mozart
Aside for the fact that they were conceived against a backdrop of the distressing pauperism which enveloped Mozart’s last years, we know surprisingly little about the genesis or performance history of his last three symphonies, Nos. 39 - 41. They were probably intended for publication, (as release in groups of three was typical practice at the time), and may have planned for subscription premiere in 1788. However, no record of either project coming to fruition seems to exist, and it remains unclear whether Mozart ever actually heard the works played. What is beyond question is that in these works the composer achieved a crowning symphonic synthesis of everything he had learned over a lifetime crowded with study, performance, and creative output.
Several features combine to make the Symphony No. 40 particularly compelling: the subtle varying of regular and irregular phrase-lengths (a feature evident even in the music’s very first melody); the expressive use of counterpoint (particularly in the Minuet and Trio); and the often strikingly original harmonic language (there is a unison passage in the finale in which eleven of the twelve possible pitches are sounded, the only “missing” pitch being the tonic G!).
This evening, the orchestra will be presenting the work in the composer’s revised orchestration probably made in 1791, which added the warmth of clarinets to the noticeably spare original scoring of flute, oboes, bassoons and horns.