In concert: Steven Isserlis, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Maxim Emelyanychev – Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto no.1 & ‘Organ’ Symphony

Saint-Saëns
Phaéton Op.39 (1873)
Cello Concerto no.1 in A minor Op.33 (1873)
Danse macabre Op.40 (1874)
Symphony no.3 in C minor Op.78 ‘Organ’ (1885-6)

Steven Isserlis (cello, below), Matthew Truscott (violin), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Maxim Emelyanychev (above)

Royal Festival Hall, London
Thursday 26 January 2023

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood Steven Isserlis picture (c) Satoshi Aoyagi

Top marks to the planning team of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, for scheduling a night of Saint-Saëns in January! They chose a rousing quartet of works as part of the orchestra’s Sounds For The End Of A Century series, in what may have been a first live encounter for the orchestra with the French composer’s music.

They were matched with a suitably dynamic conductor, Maxim Emelyanychev throwing heart and soul into the music as we explored numerous links between Saint-Saëns and Liszt. This was done through a pair of symphonic dramas, one to open each half, the Cello Concerto no.1 and the Symphony no.3, the Organ, dedicated to Liszt himself.

The first drama told the story of Phaéton. Drawn from Greek mythology, it tells how the child of sun god Helios drives his chariot recklessly across the sky – from which he is felled by Jupiter’s lightning bolt. The action was thrillingly conveyed here, the vehicle veering wildly from the start in the quickfire violin lines. The warm second theme offered a little respite but all too quickly the thunderbolt arrived, delivered with maximum drama by three timpanists, Adrian Bending, Florie Fazio and Tom Hunter.

The second drama was Danse macabre, originally a song but now a seasoned favourite in its orchestral guise. The devilish solo violin role was taken up by orchestra leader Matthew Truscott with some relish, playing with vigour from his position just behind the woodwind. Emelyanychev’s pacing was ideal, and while the dance initially felt a little soft it transpired he had been saving the full fury of the orchestra for the final rendering of the theme, unleashed in a thoroughly satisfying blast.

Steven Isserlis joined the notably reduced orchestral forces for the Cello Concerto no.1, another popular piece full of melody and incident. Isserlis has championed the music of Saint-Saëns throughout his career, and this performance found him in his element, lovingly attending to the tender second theme of the first movement and the opulent Allegretto, while fully opening up to the virtuoso demands of the outer sections. Dialogue with the orchestra was brisk and full of smiles, while the structure of the concerto – a single movement in line with the piano concertos of Liszt – was expertly handled in league with Emelyanychev.

As a thoughtful encore Isserlis marked what would have been the 78th birthday of Jacqueline du Pré, choosing the most appropriate encore – The Swan from Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. Accompanied by Emelyanychev on the orchestra piano, the cellist gave a serene yet searching account.

Finally we had the rare chance to hear the Organ Symphony in period instrument guise, with a blast from the Royal Festival Hall organ and James McVinnie. While the third is by some distance Saint-Saëns’ most popular symphony, it should be noted that a concert of either the fine Symphony no.2 or the work titled Urbs Roma would not go amiss before too long.

Here, however, was a piece written in dedication to Liszt at the surprising invitation from the Royal Philharmonic Society, and premiered at the long-demolished St James’s Hall near Piccadilly in London. It is easy to forget just how original a piece this is, with a large orchestra including not just organ but a piano (with two pianists), two harps and more. There is also an impressive resourcefulness on the part of the composer with his thematic material, which Emelyanychev took the chance to illustrate throughout.

The nervy first movement harked back to the motion of Phaéton’s chariot, albeit now riddled with anxiety, its syncopated nature leaving room for doubt. Consolation was on hand in the form of the substantial section marked Poco adagio, a noble utterance whose poise unexpectedly anticipates Elgar in style. The entrance of the organist here was expertly handled by McVinnie, whose familiarity with the Royal Festival Hall instrument enabled him to achieve an ideal balance with the orchestra. He did this through some wholly rewarding registration choices.

As a consequence the slow movement was deeply emotional, its quiet moments accentuated by Emelyanychev and the soft strings, played with little vibrato. The hurried Scherzo was a vivid contrast to this, and brilliantly played, before the doors were flung open for the famous finale.

McVinnie led with authority, securing a lovely, grainy sound from his instrument for the thunderous C major chord at the start. The two pianists, playing what seemed to be a modern instrument, caressed the upper reaches of the texture with delicate arpeggios. Emelyanychev steered clear of sentimentality in his interpretation, a move which actually heightened the impact of the piece and carried us to a thrilling conclusion.

A blast of C major to see January into the long grass was most welcome – what more could a concert goer want?!

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment website.

In Concert – Soloists, Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / John Butt: Haydn: ‘Nelson’ Mass and ‘Trauer’ Symphony

Haydn
Symphony no.44 in E minor Hob.I:44 ‘Trauer’ (1772)
‘Ganz Erbarmen’ from The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross Hob.XX:2/2 (1786, choral version 1796)
Missa in angustiis (‘Nelson’ Mass), Hob.XXII:11 (1798)

Sofie Ticciati (soprano), Bethany Horak-Hallett (mezzo-soprano), Hugo Hymas (tenor), Robert Davies (bass), Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / John Butt

Hall One, Kings Place, Friday 30 September 2022

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

Full marks should go to the OAE and Kings Place planning teams for this concert. Somehow they anticipated that what was required on the last day of September 2022 was a ‘mass in time of fear’ – and in doing so unwitting delivered the ideal response at the end of a week of great political uncertainty. The subtitle was given by Haydn to a substantial work better known as the Nelson Mass, so called because it was performed in the presence of Nelson and Lady Hamilton when they visited the composer at Eisenstadt in 1800.

First, though, we heard a work from the composer’s Sturm und Drang period. His Symphony no.44, the only one of his 104 in the key of E minor, has the nickname Trauer on account of the performance of its slow movement at Haydn’s funeral. It falls in the middle of a particularly rich vein of creativity in the Haydn symphony, where he was exploring less common key centres and instrumental possibilities. This performance was given by just 17 players but they gave a sound that could have been made by an orchestra double the size. They caught the dark undertones of its lean and jagged first movement, reminding us of how dramatic Haydn symphonies can be. John Butt was an embodiment of the vigorous performance, drawing the wit and dance rhythms from the Menuetto but also enjoying the relative sweetness of the trio section, with outstanding high horn playing from Ursula Paludan Monberg. The muted Adagio was beautifully done, finding the serene corners of the major key, while the finale had terrific drive, the strings digging in with gritty staccato.

A curious inclusion followed, the second movement of the choral version of Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross. Concentrating on Christ’s promise to his fellow crucified prisoners that they too would see paradise, Haydn offers a vision of redemption that the four vocal soloists portrayed after a period of initial solemnity. The choir, positioned around the balcony, sang down to the audience and were ideally balanced by Butt, who was always cajoling them on to more.

He did likewise in an outstanding performance of the Nelson Mass, which was compelling from first note to last. Described by no less than Haydn scholar HC Robbins Landon as ‘arguably his greatest composition’, it began with a dramatic Kyrie, laying an immediate sense of occasion. With brass and timpani alongside the 17-strong chorus on the balcony, there was fear and tumult in the music, which reached an apex in the Benedictus, an extraordinary passage of writing for the time. Soprano Sofie Ticciati was a subtly commanding presence, especially in this section, and she had sterling harmonic support from fine mezzo-soprano Bethany Horak-Hallett, who came into her own with a terrific solo at the start of the Agnus Dei. Hugo Hymas and Robert Davies were excellent too, the latter’s burnished bass tones matching the sweet violins in the Qui tollis section of the Gloria.

The choir sang with composure but with great passion, too, mirroring the input of their conductor, who had the measure of the Kings Place acoustic. This gave the big numbers – Gloria, Credo and Agnus Dei especially – the reverberation they needed at the end to follow their emphatic conclusions. By the end of the latter movement the darkness was completely vanquished, Haydn’s firm beliefs given their surest possible foundation. This was an outstanding concert, and a memorable contribution to the Voices Unwrapped series at Kings Place. Here the voices were not just unwrapped, they were ringing in the venue’s recesses long after the audience had departed.

In concert – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Iván Fischer: Mozart’s Final Flourish

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Iván Fischer

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Friday 7 February 2020

Mozart
Symphonies: no.39 in E flat major K543; no.40 in G minor K550; no.41 in C major K551 ‘Jupiter’ (all composed in 1788)

This concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 12 February. You can listen to it here

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

Few orchestras inspire their audience as consistently as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Tonight was no exception, presenting ‘Mozart’s Final Flourish’ – his three final symphonies, nos. 39-41, written unusually in a short space of time, without commission, in 1788. The three works represent Mozart’s mastery of the symphonic form, and as conductor Iván Fischer explained to us before the performances began, there is an argument for the three works being viewed as one.

Fischer structured the concert to support his point, the trinity performed in order but with the interval positioned between the second and third movements of the Symphony no.40. This did not prove as much of a hindrance as expected, for the ‘one giant stucture’ – seen as such by no less than Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Fischer’s teacher – was merely paused half way through. Fischer encouraged applause between movements, a tactic which fragmented the performance a little but added to the relaxed atmosphere and will have encouraged first-time attendees.

The performances were very fine indeed. Symphony no.39 in E flat major, no.543 in Köchel’s catalogue of Mozart compositions, does not always get the appreciation it deserves. This is a shame as it is a wonderfully affirmative work, packed full of good tunes that responded well to the orchestra’s lean sound and fresh phrasing. The slow movement Andante was really nicely characterised, its middle section appropriately stern, while the busy finale chattered excitedly, Fischer leading the conversation.

The Symphony no.40 in G minor came as something of a shock to audiences with its ‘Sturm und drang’ approach, in keeping with Haydn and other artistic movements of the day but clearly plumbing emotional depths for the composer. The first movement was tautly argued, relenting a little for the Andante which was perhaps too relaxed in tone. When we returned after the interval the Menuetto disappeared rather quickly, with Fischer’s brisk tempo and an absence of repeats, while the fourth movement brought more abstract qualities to the fore before its final flourish.

And so to the Symphony no.41 in C major, nicknamed the ‘Jupiter’ 40 years or so after its publication. What a remarkable achievement this is, its surface simplicity masking complex inner workings with the serenity of a swan. Fischer, who smiled throughout, revelled in another fine performance, typified by the extra spring given to the exuberant second theme of the first movement. The tender heart of the Andante cantabile was aided by a lovely muted string sound, while the floated delivery from the violins helped the deceptively straightforward themes in the Menuetto. All this was headed for the finale, however, and its masterful fugue. This conversation between parts is the closest thing to perfection in Mozart’s symphonic writing, and the OAE relished both their individual parts and the ensemble workings resulting from them, building enough kinetic energy to sweep us home.

This was a thought provoking and ultimately uplifting evening, and the ideal setting of the scene for anyone moving on to Beethoven next!

Further listening and viewing

A reminder that this concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 12 February. You can listen here

You can find out more about the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on their website, and you can get an introduction to them in a minute through the video below:

The orchestra appear not to have recorded Mozart’s last three symphonies, but their one-time guest conductor Frans Brüggen made these excellent live recordings with the Orchestra of the 18th Century. They sit relatively closely to the sound heard at this concert:

Ask the Audience at the BBC Proms – Sam Hogwood on Verdi’s Requiem

Ask The Audience Arcana at the Proms
sammi-2This is the final installment of this year’s series where Arcana invites a friend to a Prom who does not normally listen to classical music. In an interview after the concert each will share their musical upbringing and their thoughts on the concert – whether good or bad! Here, it felt right to bring the editor’s wife along! So Samantha Hogwood (above) gives her thoughts on Prom 74.

Soloists, BBC Proms Youth Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Marin Alsop

Verdi Requiem (1874)

You can watch this Prom on the BBC iPlayer here

Arcana: Mrs Hogwood, what was your musical upbringing?

Well a lot of it was from my father, who’s now a silver fox…and we were brought up on things like Pink Floyd, Queen and Fleetwood Mac, and lots of blues and jazz – though no specific names jump out at me. He used to play things like Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene – all that kind of stuff – and all sorts of what might be considered wacky music! There was one particular album – Rick Wakeman I think – where it was like a battle. King Arthur I think it was, and there was a cover where there was a horse being stabbed, I remember lying on the floor behind the sofa with my dad’s headphones on, imagining what it was like to do battle, and feeling sad that so many horses must have died. I was completely knocked out by things like that.

king-arthur

The cover of Rick Wakeman‘s King Arthur

There are so many amazing bands, but things that stick in your mind…and music I used to hear when sharing a flat with my dear friends Kate and Jan. I think of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Judy Tzuke, then bands like Hawkwind, The Clash and loads more. Listening to Abba with my dear friend Anne as well. I used to hate the Sex Pistols though because they used to gob on everyone! I love Orb-type stuff, the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, and Underworld had a massive influence on me when I moved down to London. I used to listen to loads of music then, in my room.

Could you name three musical acts you love, and why you love them?

Well we’ve seen the Super Furry Animals together a lot, and I love them so much because they’re wacky, original and colourful:

I used to love David Lee Roth, and had a poster of him over my bed. It wasn’t that I fancied him necessarily – well, I did! – but it was the cockiness he portrayed, the glint in his eye, the kind of music he sang and the humour as well – like the song Just A Gigolo, with his band mates onstage – a bit like Magic Mike. I went to three or four concerts on my own to see him!

I would say Joni Mitchell too, because every time I hear her voice she takes me to a place that I completely identify with, whether it’s Big Yellow Taxi, Blue or Heartbreak – stuff that you’ve done that you know you can’t get back, you have to accept it. It’s joyous but heartbreaking too, and every time I hear her I just want to melt. I know all the words, all the nuances, and all the notes, and I love her songwriting.

What has been your experience of classical music so far?

Well quite a lot from the beginning, because my mum and dad used to listen to stuff like Strauss – the music to 2001 – or Holst‘s The Planets­ – but there was a whole lot more. Apparently I kicked off about learning classical guitar, so they took me to do that, and I got to grade 8. Mum and Dad do like to regale the fact that I was so frustrated with practising that I once bit my guitar! There were chew marks around it! That’s basically what they will remember. I did very well in exams but I used to bite my guitar a lot and was locked in my room and made to practise. I gave it to a woman in London.

Then I met you – my husband now! – and we realised we had a lot in common. You would suggest stuff to go and see. We talk about music a lot, and I used to regale the music I listened to – and still do now. After a period of time I went to the Proms with you, but I haven’t been very often. I love listening to classical music, and we’ve been to see Holst’s The Planets and Britten’s War Requiem, which was incredible but more depressing – but the voices lifted you up. I’m really lucky to have seen that, but I do find it difficult to sit still while I’m listening for a long period of time at concerts, where I would like to move around. If I was watching a film it would be different.

How did you rate your first Proms experience?

It was mind blowing. It made my hair stand on end, as soon as I heard the orchestra and the singers I was blown away. There was one particular part that they use a lot in the X-factor, that we’re all familiar with – which is really annoying – but I loved it. It was colourful and beautiful. There were dips on occasion when the soloists were singing, which is what seems to happen, but I would say I was really listening to it, and at times I was closing my eyes and feeling the music.

I absolutely loved it, but I’ve been to a few concerts with you and so I guess you knew I would like it! I’m very good at switching myself off and on again from the day, because you can’t go somewhere in a bad mood and enjoy a concert, so I find you do have to do that sometimes.

I haven’t been to the Proms as often as you have but I think it is an amazing cultural institution that has been going for so long. I think they have been good at introducing new things, and having the tickets where you can stand is really good. I definitely think they could do more to introduce classical music to the greater public though, because I know for a fact those who have heard it on advertisements or TV have no idea where it’s come from, or the context, and they would love to go and see it. They could do more to introduce the more general classical music to encourage people.

That’s where I think your website could be the most amazing thing. Nobody makes enough of an effort to introduce people to new kinds of classical music. We’ve got loads of friends who love the classical music we’ve played at parties, from 1 o’clock in the afternoon, people who have loved it but don’t know an awful lot about it. It would be amazing if we could encourage more people like that along to the Proms to experience the environment, because tonight was absolutely gorgeous and amazing!

Would you go again?

Definitely. I loved it!

Verdict: SUCCESS

 

A New World in old clothes

A New World in old clothes – The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Adam Fischer, bring new life to Dvořák’s New World symphony, with Brahms’ Violin Concerto from Viktoria Mullova

oae
Viktoria Mullova (violin), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Adam Fischer – The Anvil, Basingstoke, live on BBC Radio 3, 26 February 2015

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0535tzx

on the iPlayer until 28 March

Spotify

For those unable to hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify link to the same program – with Viktoria Mullova’s recording of the Brahms included.

What’s the music?

Smetana: The Bartered Bride Overture (1865) (7 minutes)

Brahms: Violin Concerto (1878) (39 minutes)

Dvořák: Symphony no.9 (From the New World) (1893) (45 minutes)

What about the music?

dvorakThe composer Antonin Dvořák

This is a ‘period instrument performance’ – that is, played on instruments either from the time the music was written or before – and performed in a style audiences of the day might have witnessed. It is relatively rare for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to venture this far forward in time, for their instruments tend to be more geared towards the performance of music between 1700 and 1850.

They begin with a popular overture, a crowd pleaser – the curtain raiser for Bedřich Smetana’s comic opera The Bartered Bride. The work is something of a Czech institution, full of Smetana’s interpretations of Czech dances such as the polka and furiant. As BBC Radio 3 presenter Martin Handley says, Smetana became ‘the father of Czech nationalism’ through his patriotic and uplifting set of works for orchestra, Ma vlast (My Country), completed in 1879.

Dvořák was a Czech composer, but the action in the New World symphony takes place far from home. Always one to fill his music with good tunes, the composer turned to American heritage for a lot of his source material, declaring in the New York Herald that “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music“. Dvořák was homesick at the time, and the melancholy tinge to some of his tunes reflects that.

The symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and given its first performance in Carnegie Hall in 1893, and has been extremely popular ever since. In recent years themes from it have frequently been heard on TV, most famously when the tune of the second movement Largo was used in a Hovis advert.

In between these Bohemian classics is music by Brahms, his Violin Concerto – which, at the time of composition, was one of the biggest such works around. It was written for the Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Joachim, a composer himself – and he had considerable input into the piece, having also commissioned a concerto from Dvořák. When receiving the parts for the first time Joachim remarked on the symphonic design of the concerto, and on how difficult it was to play – even for him!

The first movement is a big unit in itself, lasting longer than the second and third put together but gripping the listener as a closely fought dialogue between violin and orchestra, both seemingly on equal terms. The third movement finale is based on a gypsy tune, and caught the eye of Paul Thomas Anderson, who chose it for the closing credits of his film There Will Be Blood.

Performance verdict

Having emphatically blown away the cobwebs with a vigorous account of the Smetana overture, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment get their teeth into Brahms.

The Violin Concerto benefits from their slightly smaller numbers, and thanks to Fischer’s conducting we can really hear all the inner workings of the orchestral introduction. The pace is relatively slow at this point, but picks up when the violin enters. Mullova’s tone is lovely, though just occasionally in the first movement she is a little ‘under’ the note of the orchestra – which, given the performance is on period instruments, could even be due to the heat in the venue.

The rustic finale has plenty of swagger, enthusiastically led by Mullova, while the slow movement – which seems to go quickly here – is beautifully rendered.

For the Dvořák the lean textures of the orchestra bring out the beauty of his melodies, and also the strong sense of longing the composer felt from New York for his home. The spiritual melodies help him to express this, but Fischer also keeps the spirit of dance to the fore.

What should I listen out for?

Smetana

2:24 – a brisk and breezy introduction from the orchestra. Soon the violins take up a rushing theme, as do the violas (3:08) and then the cellos and basses. As with much of Smetana’s fast music he generates terrific energy.

Later there is a gentler passage for the woodwind, with a more ‘reedy’ sound than a modern symphony orchestra would provide. This is rudely interrupted by the drums.

The music dips and then comes back with a terrific crescendo, where it feels like the players are standing on tiptoe.

Brahms

12:08 – a smooth, ‘legato’ start to the first movement, marked Allegro non troppo (fast but not too fast). This is the beginning of a long orchestral introduction. It is a long time before we hear the violin

14:22 – a sudden injection of power from the strings, a moment of real drama in this music that prepares the way for the entry of the violin 20 seconds later.

20:08 – the violin now takes up the energetic music the strings had earlier, and this is taken up by the full orchestra. There follows a lovely unison melody at 21:27.

24:25 – the culmination of the movement, violin soaring above the orchestra.

27:45 – deep unease in the violin part as Brahms writes some very uncertain double stopping for the instrument, with mysterious lower strings, until the injection of power happens again at 28:02. This leads through to…

29:13 – the start of the cadenza, a showy section for violin alone. This is a pivotal part in any performance of the Brahms, as a large number of cadenzas from different composers are available – or the soloist can perform their own. I suspect this one is by Joseph Joachim. The orchestra return at 32:07 and the mood has changed to one of calm reflection – which builds to an affirmative finish at 33:40 – at over twenty minutes, a first movement of impressive size!

34:50 – the start of the slow second movement, marked Adagio (slow). Soothing horns and woodwind set a scene of calm. If the music ever sounds out of tune, this is because the brass have a ‘temperament’ that can be slightly out of kilter on certain notes. If anything it makes the music more authentic! The violin comes in at 36:49 with a sweetly toned melody.

42:34 – a wonderful gypsy tune to begin the finale, which sounds full of the open air. This performance brings out the dance, and Mullova takes the lead effortlessly. Lovely woodwind trills at 43:11 too. The catchy tune appears on a number of occasions, structured by Brahms as a ‘Rondo’, running through to the end at 50:30.

Dvořák

1:16:19 – a solemn introduction on lower strings, then woodwind, before the full orchestra interrupt suddenly. Gradually the tension builds before a statement of the main theme of this movement from the horn (1:18:08)

1:18:38 – full brass on the theme, then the texture drops to 1:19:09 and a dance-like melody.

1:20:17 – another tune from the flute, slightly mournful this time, but then given more power by the brass (1:20:44), at which point the horn returns to the tune from the opening.

1:25:19 – the recap of the symphony’s themes so far begins with the horn once again, then the introverted flute tune (1:26:01), then moving seamlessly to the slighty mournful flute tune (1:27:01) – again heard with much greater power a few moments later. There is then a tautly argued close.

1:29:26 – the famous second movement Largo begins, with its homesick melody first heard on the cor anglais at 1:30:07. This is wonderfully controlled by the OAE’s Gonzalo X. Ruiz.

1:32:09 – a more involved section starts with the strings gradually moving the music on by way of a variation on the main theme. Beautifully hushed in this performance. Then the cor anglais returns at 1:33:01.

1:34:02 – the music switches key from major to minor and a darker shadow emerges, but at 1:37:10 this is emphatically put to rights by the woodwind – and then we hear a reference to the first movement in the loudest part of the Largo.

1:38:03 – the tune returns, again on the cor anglais – and then we get the solemn music of the brass introduction, now closing a rather special reverie.

1:41:48 – the third movement (a Scherzo) begins, with spiky fragments from flute and clarinet, taken up by the violins at 1:42:17 and debated by the whole orchestra. This section is repeated.

1:43:23 – another winsome melody from Dvorak, begun by the woodwinds, before the music works its way back round to the mood of the opening.

1:44:46 – this symphony has its mysterious moments, and here is another from the cellos and basses – before yet another catchy melody begins in the woodwinds at 1:45:07. This works around to another statement of the main tune (1:47:10). The orchestral sound is still wide open, as though standing on the prairie. We hear all the tunes again, then the horn brings in another reference from the symphony’s first movement at 1:49:08.

1:49:53 – a terrific sense of expectation with the introduction to the final movement here, justified by the theme that appears on the brass at 1:50:10. This is music of great resilience. Then at 1:51:05 an equally thrilling and persuasive dance tune appears. Yet another big and resilient tune appears at 1:52:31.

1:55:31 – at this point Dvorak brings back the main theme from the symphony’s first movement, now in defiant guise, with extra input from the brass. This theme effectively ‘resets’ the symphony, the feeling now of greater resolution – even when Dvorak skilfully combines two themes at 1:58:35 and we hear some pretty discordant music. The music subsides until…

1:59:57 – the coda of the symphony, with a solemn utterance of its first theme, then proclaimed by the orchestra to an ultimately winning finish over rolling timpani, ending at 2:01:10.

Want to hear more?

How about some dances? All three composers wrote dances for orchestra, so here is a playlist combining two other dances from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, some Hungarian Dances by Brahms and finally some of Dvořák’s winsome Slavonic Dances with Adam Fischer. As another bonus, dropped into the middle is Dvořák’s own Violin Concerto, written for Joachim and played here by Julia Fischer:

For more concerts click here