Friday 23 February 2018
Nathalie Stutzmann conducts
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
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Le roi d’ys Overture / 11’
Cello Concerto in E minor / 30’
Symphony No. 5 in C minor / 31’
A stirring legend of love, sacrifice, war and a fabled drowned city, a masterpiece concerto written in the immediate aftermath of the carnage of the First World War, and a symphony of heroic dimensions in which fate came knocking at the door. RTÉ’s new Principal Guest Conductor Nathalie Stutzman returns to the podium with Alban Gerhardt – ‘one of the finest cellists around’ (The Guardian) – stepping into the spotlight for Elgar’s unforgettable Cello Concerto.
Best known for his colourful Symphonie espagnole, Édouard Lalo’s second opera Le roi d’ys (‘The King of Ys’) is a magnificent work of Wagnerian dimensions – its robustly romantic Overture even briefly quotes from the German iconoclast’s Tannhäuser. Set in the Middle Ages and based on the Breton legend of a submerged city, it’s a tale of two couples whose love is endangered by dynastic obligations and the threat of war. The rich and ripe Overture duly gives full voice to the passions and drama about to unfold with music of tremendous verve and excitement.
Composed in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, Elgar’s Cello Concerto was his last major work and one of the most elegiac and haunting works of 20th-century English music. From his home in Sussex near England’s southern coast, Elgar had heard the distant thunder of artillery bombardments during the conflict a few short miles across the English Channel in France. Spirited and noble, the Concerto is shot through with his profound regret at the carnage that engulfed Europe and poignantly informed by his wife’s failing health and his own dwindling powers. At its heart is a passionate Adagio in which the cello seems to sing a keening song of rich and resonant power.
Can there be a more famous opening to a symphony than the five-bar motif that announces Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? ‘Thus Fate knocks at the door,’ the composer is reported to have said, although others suggest the theme was influenced by the percussive song of a Yellowhammer bird. During the Second World War, it became a symbol of Allied resistance, its pattern of short-short-short-long notes seeming to mimic the Morse code for the letter ‘V’ (for ‘Victory’). A monumental work of unrelenting vigour, it moves through tumultuous challenge and quest to a euphoric conclusion every bit as memorable as its momentous opening declaration.
National Concert Hall
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