In the midst of the seriousness the richest melodies can be found, as well as a veritable gypsy celebration.
The virtuosos of the 1800’s felt insulted when Brahms composed a demanding violin concerto which was more symphonic and serious than circus showpiece. But listen closely! In the midst of the seriousness the richest melodies can be found, as well as a veritable gypsy celebration. Shostakovich also mixed humour and earnestness, and in Symphony No. 15 — his last — he reveals his usual whimsical self. Just as you are convinced that it’s all fun and games, the seriousness, emotion and pain appear from just under the surface. Latvian Andris Poga and Dutch Simone Lamsma form a brilliant and serious pair for this occasion.
“I refuse to stand on the podium with my violin in my hand while the oboe plays the concerto’s sole melody”. The comment was made by star violinist Pablo de Sarasate about Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Violin Concerto (1878), a work which doubtless was both demanding and grandiose, but which omitted flashy effects and recognisable melodies. Fortunately, Brahms had a single star soloist on his side: the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. He composed the solo cadenza himself, made sure the work was dedicated to him and performed the world premiere of the concerto in Leipzig in 1879. After a grand first movement which is torn between the tumultous and the lyrical, the second movement opens calmly with the above-mentioned oboe solo. The third movement is known for its bohemian character and its double stops in the opening sequence. First and foremost, the concerto remains full of Brahmsian symphonic power and lyrical harmonies.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) employed humour and satire as effects, but behind the facade — which often marches, chuckles or points a finger at the authorities — one finds a deep solemnity and a serious symphonist’s masterful and singular art and expression. Symphony No. 15 (1971) is his last, and reflects many characteristic aspects of the composer. The first movement is a sort of bubbling parody of Rossini’s galloping overture to William Tell, and the contrast to the elegiac and deadly earnest second movement could not be greater. Shostakovich constantly makes references — to Wagner and others — and the music constantly fluctuates between a blithe joie de vivre and the searing pain of life. Perhaps a quote by Mark Twain is relevant here: The secret source of humour is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humour in Heaven.
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation (from Norwegian); Sarah Osa; In photo: Simone Lamsma; Photo: Otto van den Toorn)
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