Friday 11 May 2018
A Hero’s Life
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Tickets: from €15BOOK NOW
Festive Overture, Op. 96 / 7’
- Shostakovich Cello
Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 107 / 30’
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 / 40’
SOUNDINGS 6.30pm Conductor Christian Vásquez and cellist Narek Hakhanazaryan in conversation
Two mighty works from a giant of Russian music, Shostakovich – a bracingly ebullient Festive Overture and tour de force Cello Concerto – and a tall tale of epic dimensions in Richard Strauss’s ripely romantic Ein Heldenleben. Christian Vásquez ‘a hypermobile conductor already making waves’ (Evening Standard) conducts, with Narek Hakhnazaryan – who ‘makes the cello sing’ (The Guardian) – the welcome soloist.
The greatest composer to emerge from Russia in the 20th century, Dmitri Shostakovich’s music was shaped by constant conflict with his now approving, now censorious Soviet paymasters.
The bright, brisk Festive Overture is a brilliant, bristling, brass-led salute commissioned in 1954 for the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution. Loosely based on the overture to Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, it was composed at speed in just three days. That energy is palpably to the fore in vibrant, colourful music full of wit, drive and invigorating vitality.
Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto was prompted by a performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in Moscow in 1947. Its long, 12-year gestation was aided by the distinguished Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the soloist at its premiere in the Soviet capital in October 1959.
Composed in four movements, it is a technical tour de force for the cello with orchestral accompaniment rich in detail; brass, woodwind and strings all making vital contributions to texture and tonal colouring, the immediacy of the music disguising its densely woven complexity.
With quotations from, and allusions to, more than 30 of his earlier works, there’s a self-congratulatory autobiographical quality to Richard Strauss’s stirring and tellingly titled tone poem Ein Heldenleben (‘A Hero’s Life’). Strauss himself declined to unpick its various themes and driving central notion, declaring: ‘There is no need for a program. It is enough to know that there is a hero, fighting his enemies’.
A work of sparkling vim and vivacity and teeming with incident and colour, it is one of the last great flowerings of musical Romanticism and one of Strauss’s most popular works in the concert hall.
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