Friday 12 January 2018

Symphonie Fantastique

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Time 7:30pm
National Concert Hall Dublin

Tickets: from €15

  • Stanislav Kochanovsky 
  • Valeriy Sokolov 
  • Debussy
    Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune / 10’
  • Bartók
    Violin Concerto No. 2 / 36’
  • Berlioz
    Symphonie fantastique / 49’

The startling masterpiece that awakened modern music, a rhapsodic concerto that bends the new to its own dazzlingly discrete ends, and an orchestral showpiece that exorcises unrequited love for an Irish actress. Stanislav Kochanovsky’s ‘technical proficiency, clarity and much musicality’ (Bachtrack) leads the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra with Valeriy Sokolov ­– ‘the sheer eloquence of his playing is a joy’ (ClassicFM) – taking centre-stage for Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto.

Debussy’s hypnotic setting of Stéphane Mallarmé’s symbolist poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’) is as fantastical as the half-man, half-animal who dreams of seducing two sleeping nymphs it depicts. With melodies hinting at the exotic East, harmonies evaporating into thin air and languid, hallucinogenic tones, it created a rich, new musical palette for future generations.

Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto was commissioned by his Hungarian compatriot, Zoltán Székely, although the two men disagreed over the form it should take. The composer was keen to write a single-movement set of variations; the soloist insisted on a conventional three-movement concerto. The ingenious result gave both men what they wanted. Substantial technical challenges for the violin are disguised in writing of robust richness and lavish lyricism. The beautiful second movement sneaks in the variations Bartók originally intended, the outer movements subtly employing 12-tone notes in a riposte to the architect of atonality, Arnold Schoenberg.

Partly composed under the influence of opium, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique has been likened by Leonard Bernstein to a psychedelic experience: ‘Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind of screaming at your own funeral’. A musical phantasmagoria, it relates the fateful tale of a man intoxicated by a woman with whom he has a torrid affair before being sent to the guillotine for murdering her lover.

Ironically, the sorry story, in Berlioz’s own summary, anticipates the failure of his own marriage to the Irish actress Harriet Smithson: ‘He remembers first the uneasiness of spirit, the indefinable passion, the melancholy, the aimless joys he felt even before seeing his beloved; then the explosive love she suddenly inspired in him, his delirious anguish, his fits of jealous fury, his returns of tenderness, his religious consolations’.

Berlioz had been smitten by Smithson after seeing her play Ophelia in a production of Hamlet in Paris in 1827. When she left the French capital without responding to his many entreaties, he wrote his first symphony and its premiere in 1830 revolutionised the form.