Oslo Philharmonic performs music by Frederick Delius, Edvard Grieg and Sergei Rachmaninoff in Kilden in Kristiansand.
The dramatic whirl of the timpani which leads us from silence to fiery music in Edvard Grieg’s (1843−1907) Piano Concerto is one of the most effective and famous musical openings in the classical repertoire. With this particular bang, Grieg forged his way into European music culture, engraving himself onto musical history − on which the young composer left an indelible trace. From the very first note, the piano soloist plays “Grieg’s leading motif”, a musical signature inspired by melodic turns in Norwegian folk music. Nevertheless, the clearest connection to traditional music is represented by the Halling dance rhythms in the third movement. Before the finale takes off, Grieg demonstrates further strengths: the lyrical melodies, the atmospheric harmonies, and passion in the Adagio.
One might picture fjords and mountains when one hears Grieg’s concerto, but the composer himself gazed upon a completely different landscape, far from Norway, when he wrote the piece: Sollerød in Denmark. On a musical level, Grieg also drew inspiration from other places. The concerto has much in common with Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor (1845), which Grieg himself had heard as a young student in Leipzig. Grieg’s own concerto has become an equally important pillar in both Norwegian musical heritage and remains one of the world’s most famed concertos. It has been so since its world premiere, which was performed by Edmund Neupert as soloist in Copenhagen in 1869, and since Franz Liszt played it enthusiastically in Rome in 1870. It was also the very first piano concerto to be recorded on LP, by Wilhelm Backhaus, in 1909.
Sergei Rachmaninov’s (1873−1943) life and career was characterised by extremes. When his first symphony was premiered in St. Petersburg in 1897, it was damned by critics. “If there were a conservatory in Hell, and if one of its talented students were asked to compose a programmatic symphony about the ten plagues of Egypt, and had written a symphony like Mr. Rachmaninov’s, this would have been considered an expert execution of the task, bringing joy to the inhabitants of Hell. For us, however, the music bears an expression of evil.” raged Cesar Cui.
Cui’s criticism is difficult to understand when one listens to Rachmaninov’s ambitious and dramatic symphony. The work has a Russian sound, and opens with a dramatic theme which is often associated with fate, especially when it returns in the last movement, after developing into a battle of life and death. Also part of the story is that the world premiere took place after a scandalouly short rehearsal period, with a conductor who was totally uninterested in the work, and possibly even intoxicated. In any case, it sent the composer into a long period of depression, and he concealed the work for many years. Only after the second world war was the work performed again, this time in Moscow, and it has over the years found its place in standard orchestral repertoire.
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)