Friday 24 November
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
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Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 / 42’
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 / 44’
Nikolaj Znaider puts his ‘musical prowess as both a violin soloist and conductor’ (Bachtrack) to the service of two masterpieces bursting with tunes and revelling in music’s facility for painting the most vivid and stirring of pictures and to move the human heart and enthuse the human spirit.
First performed in late December 1806 while the ink was still drying on the manuscript, Beethoven’s only concerto for violin is a work of robust sentiment and exquisitely delicate beauty. Longer than was customary for a concerto, it also calls upon considerably enlarged resources and boasts fiendishly difficult writing for the violin. As the Eroica Symphony had marked a milestone in the fortunes of the symphony two years earlier, so the Violin Concerto re-minted the form of the concerto. So radically, in fact, that many of his contemporaries declared Beethoven had sounded its death knell. Quite the reverse was the case in a work marked by excitable dynamics, a virtuosic violin line and some of the richest orchestrations yet heard – or imagined.
Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was greeted with an ecstatic reception at its premiere in 1937, the audience reportedly weeping during its slow movement and affording it an ovation lasting well over half an hour at its conclusion. Under a cloud cast by disapproving Soviet authorities in response to his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Shostakovich knew failure for his new symphony was not an option and responded with a work that one reviewer at the time described as ‘a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism’. As with all of the composer’s music, it can be heard in two divergent ways: as an alleluia for Soviet ideals and as a biting criticism of the very same. Listen out, too, for the quotation of the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen in the first movement – an autobiographical note inspired by Shostakovich’s recent rejection by a woman who subsequently moved to Spain and, ironically enough, married a man called Roman Carmen.
National Concert Hall
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