Few symphonies have had greater significance in the history of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra than Tchaikovsky’s fifth.
The work had a central role in consolidating the orchestra’s international reputation and has always been an audience favourite. It opens quietly and mysteriously with the clarinet’s “fate” motive, followed by a surge of ravishing melodies and magnificent writing for orchestra. Our own principal oboist, David Friedemann Strunck, performs Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto − a highlight in the instrument’s repertoire, written by an experienced composer in 1945.
Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) was one of the pillars of Norwegian music in the early 1900s. He became known first as a violinist and then as conductor, and in the 1890s he made a major breakthrough as a composer with the orchestral piece Entry March of the Boyars.
From 1899 Halvorsen led the orchestra at the National Theatre in Kristiania (now Oslo), which at that time was the capital's largest orchestra. When the Oslo Philharmonic was founded in 1919, Halvorsen was hired as one of three chief conductors, a position he held for one year before returning to the National Theatre.
Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1 was written in 1919. The rhapsody form became popular through the Hungarian rhapsodies Franz Liszt composed in the 1840s and the following decades. Johan Svendsen wrote four Norwegian rhapsodies in the 1870s, which later provided Johan Halvorsen with inspiration.
Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1 consists of three parts, all based on Norwegian folk tunes orchestrated creatively and effectively. After a brief introduction, a solo violin presents the cheerful springar on which the first part is based. Then the mood changes abruptly when the sad folk song Jeg lagde meg så silde is introduced in a cello solo. The contrast is just as great to the third part, where a halling provides the springboard into the furious finale.
Richard Strauss (1864−1949) was over eighty years old when he composed his Oboe Concerto in 1945. He could look back at an illustrious career as a composer and conductor − a career which had not only survived two world wars, but also some of the most dramatic stylistic changes in music history. Strauss found his own place within musical modernism, on the periphery of the most radical tendencies, but still boasting a distinct and innovative language − first with his tone poems at the end of the 19th century and thereafter with the groundbreaking operas he composed in the first half of the 20th century. In his Oboe Concerto, he bases his musical language on a Romantic ideal, but which also contains elements of the harmonic turns of modernism. Strauss was inspired by an American soldier and oboist who was stationed near Garmisch in 1945. The composer denied at first that he wanted to write an oboe concerto, but he was clearly inspired by the idea and finished the work a few months later.
His Oboe Concerto has three movements. In the first movement, the soloist engages in a playful game with the other woodwinds and orchestra. The second movement is more restrained and elegiac — here Strauss plays on a nostalgia for the chromatic melodies and harmonies of Late Romanticism. The playful vivace functions as an introduction to the finale, but although the expression is light-hearted, the solo part places great technical demands on the soloist. Circular breathing is a requirement for managing Strauss’ long phrases, and the soloist must also master both the rapid runs and great leaps throughout the concerto.
Strauss’ Oboe Concerto had its world premeire in Zurich in 1946 with Marcel Saillet as the soloist, and is today one of the most popular solo concertos for the instrument.
Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony has always had a special resonance in the orchestra. The work was performed during its very first season, and has proved remarkably popular among musicians, conductors and audiences in Oslo since the 1920’s. Half a century later, Tchaikovsky’s symphonies were in focus when the Oslo Philharmonic first achieved international recognition. Recordings of the fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies with Mariss Jansons in the 1980’s won numerous awards, granting the orchestra a new presence on the international music scene.
The theme of the clarinet, in a dark minor key, accompanied by deeply solemn strings, heralds a tragic fate in the opening of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840−1893) fifth symphony. Constructed in the same fashion as Beethoven’s fifth symphony, the theme goes from battle to triumph, from darkness to light, in the course of the symphony. The drama remains even after the triumph is seemingly achieved in the beginning of the finale, and the theme is no longer in a minor key, but in a radiant major key. Threatening fate is defeated in the end, and the symphony ends in triumph. When the work was completed in 1888, Tchaikovsky’s might have realised that fate was not so merciful, something which was to colour his heartrending sixth symphony a few years later. Tchaikovsky concealed his sexuality throughout his life, and died an unhappy man in 1893. The cause of death was cholera, but many have speculated on whether his early death was by his own hand.
Although his fifth symphony has a dramatic form and a clearly drawn plot, features most people remember most clearly are its beautiful melodies, rich orchestra sound and many expressive highlights. Who could forget the master of ballet’s beautiful waltz in the third movement, the elegant horn solo and the rich orchestra palate in the famous second movement − not to speak of the expressive musical waves sweeping through the entire work?
(In photo: Vasily Petrenko; Photo: Svetlana Tarlova)Read more
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