Music by Joseph Haydn and Anton Bruckner.
“If He takes the pen from my hand, that is His responsibility”, wrote Bruckner when he composed his Symphony No. 9, which he dedicated to his “dear God”. He died after having completed the slow third movement, which he baptised “Farewell to life”, filling it with citations from his earlier works. This stands out as one of the most grandiose, powerful and compelling musical farewells in the classical repertoire. Sebastian Weigle will conduct this spiritual journey, and moreover, presents Alban Gerhardt as soloist in Haydn's lesser known, but in the ears of many, most beautiful, Cello Concerto − No. 2 in D-major.
There has been a long-standing argument around whether this concerto was really written by Joseph Haydn (1732−1809) for Antonin Kraft, the principal cello player in the orchestra at Esterhazy Castle. Sure enough, Haydn had worked at Esterhazy for a long period of time, but many suspected that Kraft had written the concerto himself. However, when Haydn's handwritten notes came to light in 1951, all doubt was cast aside. The concerto was without a doubt composed by the master of Viennese classicism.
Haydn's second cello concerto is more restrained and relaxed than its more energetic and famous cousin, written in C-major (the composer's first concerto for cello). Nevertheless, the piece poses equally strict requirements for a soloist's virtuosic technique and musicality. In Cello Concerto No. 2, the melodic lines are longer, and high demands for phrasing and playing technique must be met in order to sound as free and elegant as Haydn might have envisaged. The concerto is believed to have received its world premiere in 1783.
On this occasion, the Haydn concerto is only a precursor to the symphonic drama which is to follow. With his ninth symphony, and with his gaze firmly fixed on God, Anton Bruckner (1824−1896) did not only indicate a full stop to his own career, but also changed the course of music itself, setting it towards the future. The three movements he completed, and the fragments of the finale he left behind at his death contain such daring harmonic turns and such violent rhythmical passages that it leaves us in no doubt that the Modernism of the 20th century was waiting just around the corner.
The core of the symphony is, naturally enough, the immortal, unforgettable third movement. Bruckner's' “Farewell to Life” opens with a melodic gesture so unique and so expressive that it almost burns itself onto the listener's consciousness. The great leap (a minor ninth) extends itself across all earlier norms for melodic movement and becomes, together with the strongly dissonant chord at the movement's dynamic climax, the clearest sign that Bruckner was breaking out of the traditional framework, his music seemingly extending itself towards infinity. Underway, he cites melodic and harmonic ideas from his seventh and eight symphonies, in addition to several pieces of church music. For Bruckner, the belief in God was the most important thing of all, and in this sense it seems natural that his ninth symphony symbolised a final gift to the creator he believed in so steadfastly.
Bruckner's ninth symphony was first performed in Vienna in 1903. Since then, a century-long debate has raged about whether the unfinished finale ought to be completed and performed, or whether the symphony is at its most perfect in its unfinished form, and should retain its final conclusion with the composers “Farewell to life”. Tonight, Weigle chooses the latter option.
(In photo: Alban Gerhardt, Photo: Sim Canetty, ClarkeHyperion Records; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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