Overture Magazine - 2018-19 Season BSO_Overture_JanFeb_19 | Page 35

ELGAR CELLO CONCERTO of a seventh, making the mood yet more poignant as the cello is unable to reach its longed-for goal. In the rondo finale, the orchestra tries to launch the refrain theme, but is unable to budge the soloist from his mood of mourning. Eventually, he is willing to take up the quicker tempo and the rondo theme, which is very rhythmic and marked risoluto (resolute). This is bitter, dark music, and it becomes truly sardonic in a passage begun by the soloist and the cello section in unison. The closing coda is the finale’s most remarkable feature. The tempo slows, and the cello descends into a world of grief, dragging the orchestra with it. A quotation of the third movement’s lament is followed by the dramatic chords of the Concerto’s opening. Then Elgar abruptly jerks the music back to allegro for a frenzied, fast finish. Instrumentation: Two flutes including piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings. SYMPHONY NO. 6 IN E-FLAT MINOR Sergei Prokofiev Born in Sontsovka, Ukraine, April 23, 1891; died in Moscow, U.S.S.R., March 5, 1953 Sergei Prokofiev became a resident of the U.S.S.R. in 1936 after two decades of enjoying the freedom and privileges of a career in the U.S. and Europe. The choice to return had been his own, but once there, he found the international career he had hoped to continue was forbidden, and he would have to trim his musical sails to the winds and whims of the Soviet authorities. For a decade, this worked fairly well. Prokofiev had to pay lip-service to Soviet propaganda, but generally — especially since he was now writing in a more conservative and accessible style — he was able to compose what he wanted. Despite its challenging language and dark tone, the Sixth Symphony was warmly praised by the official critics at its premiere on October 11, 1947 in Leningrad. But in the U.S.S.R., an artist’s standing was never secure, and by January 1948, the notorious Zhdanov Commission was in full swing, issuing edicts about what was and was not acceptable for Soviet music. Prokofiev joined Shostakovich at the top of the list of composers who were censured for writing politically incorrect music, and the Sixth Symphony was singled out as being too obscure for the ordinary Soviet citizen to understand. More personal problems were already harassing the composer as he set to work on the Sixth during the summer of 1945. The war was over, but his health had been severely weakened: 1945 brought a heart attack and then a severe fall that caused some permanent brain damage. Despite severe headaches, nose bleeds and exhaustion, he continued to work slowly and painstakingly on his new symphony, requiring nearly two years to finish it. The Sixth Symphony is a fascinating enigma of a work. It suggests a great drama is taking place, but its exact nature is hard to identify. It contains music that constantly thwarts our expectations and it certainly isn’t the kind of upbeat “victory” symphony the Soviets would have liked to hear at this time. Perhaps the best clue to its often dark and introspective moods can be found in Prokofiev’s words to his biographer Israel Nestyev: “Now we are rejoicing in our great victory, but each of us has wounds that cannot be healed … This must not be forgotten.” The first movement’s opening sounds —short blasts from muted brass —were likened by musicologist Yulian Vaynkop to “the scrape of a key in a rusted lock.” The door opens on a rural vista with a meandering theme in muted strings. Its pastoral character is enhanced by rustic- sounding woodwinds, but is frequently disturbed by dissonant incursions from the brass and a shrill-toned E-flat clarinet. The tempo eventually eases slightly for a new theme marked dolce e sognando (“sweetly and dreaming”) and sung by a pair of oboes. Suddenly, the orchestra explodes in fury, but this subsides very quickly. Rather than a development section, Prokofiev now moves to a march that may be a reference to the wartime just passed. First we hear just its satirical, slightly grotesque accompaniment in tick-tocking bassoons and drums, then a wearily determined melody in English horn and violas. This music awakens the orchestra at last to frenzied activity and volume. Menacing horns blast continuously. The violence fades, and a solo horn reprises the dreaming second theme. The movement closes softly but ominously. The opening of the great second movement is also startling. Above an A-flat pedal in bass and timpani, winds and brass shriek in dissonant conflict. The lower instruments inch painfully upward while a keening lament in the highest woodwinds drifts downward. This fierce battle subsides into a sweeping romantic theme in violins and solo trumpet reminiscent of the love music in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We also hear a serenely beautiful second theme launched by the cellos. Savagely tick-tocking percussive music intrudes. A mellow horn quartet singing the romantic theme restores calm; in a magical passage, they are joined by bell-like celesta and harp. Both the cello theme (now high in the violins) and the romantic theme (in full orchestra) return. Though the opening music of shrieking conflict also reappears, it cannot destroy this gloriously lyrical mood. The final movement in E-flat major initially throws off the introversion and the threatening intrusions of the earlier movements in favor of extroverted celebration and a crowd of merry tunes. Pay attention, though, to that persistently hammering rhythm that keeps appearing. After this music subsides, we hear something from the past: the oboes’ winding, rustic theme from movement one, which sets off a savage outburst. Prokofiev told his second wife that these interruptions represented “questions cast into eternity” and that one of them was “what is the purpose of life?” The hammering motive, which earlier sounded playful, now makes a brutal reappearance and carries this once celebratory music to an unexpectedly fierce conclusion. Instrumentation: Two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta and strings. Notes by Janet E. Bedell, © 2019 JA N – F E B 201 9 / OV E R T U R E 33