Program Notes

Apollo Symphony Orchestra, directed by Daniel Canosa
with the guest pianist Peter Laul

Symphony No. 4


Piano Concerto No. 2

​SEPTEMBER 7 & 8, 2019


Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1947) Symphony No. 4 in A major, Opus 90, “Italian”
Allegro vivace – Andante con moto - Allegro con moto moderato – Saltarello-Presto


In 1830  Mendelssohn set off to expand his horizon and his reputation.  Having started in the  British Isles, on the advice of his friend Goethe he extended his trip and headed south. This work radiates the irresistible joy of the young composer experiencing Italy at the age of 21.

The first movement, bounding with optimism and abandon, immediately captures this luminosity. But, as Mendelssohn noted in a letter to his sister, in Italy one finds “the most wonderful combination of gaiety and seriousness”, and the second movement changes the mood considerably.
Here,  an opening cry in a minor key precedes a quasi-funereal processional march. However, the shimmering melodic voices of the upper strings over the gentle détaché of the bass dispel any impression of lingering grief.

The third movement, forgoing the more tempestuous scherzos advanced by Beethoven, recalls instead the elegance of Haydn.

When the fourth movement bursts forth, however, the politesse disappears. Here is the composer’s only adoption of Italian musical forms as he combines two fiery Italian dances: the Neopolitan saltarello and a tarantella, whirling towards a thrilling finale that allegedly caused one of the composer’s guests first to dance and then to reach for a tambourine.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)  Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18                     
Moderato – Adagio sostenuto – Allegro scherzando

“Melody is music and the foundation of all music. I do not appreciate composers who abandon melody and harmony for an orgy of noises and dissonances…”

~ Sergei Rachmaninoff

The Piano Concerto No. 2 was first performed on October 27, 1901, with the composer as soloist, and dedicated to Nikolai Dahl who through hypnosis had cured Rachmaninoff of a long depression. Prior to this concerto, his First Symphony and his First Piano Concerto experienced a disastrous reception, inducing a terrible loss of confidence. The Second Piano Concerto was Rachmaninoff's creative resurrection and affirmation of his ambition as a composer. Rachmaninoff was 28 years old when he composed it. He was in love and about to get married to Natalia Satina. This concerto was his first mature work. 
Let's imagine him at that time.

The first movement (Moderato - Allegro) opens with chords like tolling bells which expand into the pelting rain. Only belatedly does the orchestra contribute the first of the main melodies, rich and lyrical, referring the piano to color and light. A second theme, more rapturous than turbulent, appears. As additional ideas develop, the role of melodic messenger alternates between orchestra and soloist.

By contrast, the second movement (Adagio sostenuto) opens with a series of slow chords in the strings which modulate from the C minor of the previous movement to the E major of this movement. Frequently, Rachmaninoff bestows his most tender themes upon the woodwinds, with the piano elaborating in light passagework. Ultimately, the main theme takes on its richest expression with the strings, the pianist again providing ornamental commentary.

The final movement (Allegro scherzando) culminates the work with a flourish- an almost elfin march- replete with cymbals and harp setting the stage for the passagio entrance of the piano which invigorates the march and then steps aside for the orchestra to introduce the final grand, flowing melody. A powerful, irrepressible motion bubbles up which drives all the way to the final bars with brief appearances of the moonlit theme shining through.

From Olin Downes, radio commentator, about a recital by Rachmaninoff in 1935 in New York

The bell rings and a very tall, spare, grave gentleman, in afternoon garb of irreproachable correctness and sobriety, steps without smiling upon the stage. He seats himself at the piano and plays. He does not smile once through the whole occasion. In no way does he gesticulate or parade. All that he communicates he says with two wrists and ten fingers, without the raising of an eyebrow. The performance is one of mind sovereign over matter, a spirit that transfigures digital gymnastics. So it has always been with Rachmaninoff, and so it will be for the years to come. It is his fine tribute to art.

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