A concert of highlights all the way through: Australian pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout is the soloist in one of Mozart's glorious piano concertos; there's the world premiere of a work by New Zealander Gemma Peacocke; and Bohuslav Martinů's "Fantastic Symphony" is a colourful but all-too-rarely heard delight. Johannes Fritzsch conducts.
Gemma PEACOCKE: White Horses
Composer Gemma Peacocke grew up in Hamilton and after living in England, Japan, France and Austria, she’s now based in New York. This is her first APO commission.
White Horses was inspired by the true story of Viva Waud Farmar, a World War I nurse and early aviatrix. She was flying as a passenger from Blenheim to Wellington in 1937, when she jumped from the biplane over Cook Strait. Her body was never found and Gemma Peacocke was fascinated by the brief, unexplained and unfinished story of her descent.
The title of the work comes from the account of the pilot of the plane who reported that Farmar had just disappeared into the sea that was ‘pretty rough, with white horses everywhere’.
The piece is percussive, with dramatic material next to lighter, more melodious sections. Peacocke often includes electronics into her music so this purely acoustic work is unusual for her.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No 22 in Eb K482
Mozart finished this Piano Concerto in 1785 as he was reaching the height of his popularity in Vienna. At about the same time he’d been working on the score to The Marriage of Figaro, and his sense of operatic drama certainly seems to have flowed into this work.
The concerto begins with a bold fanfare then colourful musical characters take the stage and enter a continuous stream of conversation and rich dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.
This is the first piano concerto that Mozart wrote that featured clarinets in the orchestra, which has made it something of a landmark work.
MOZART: Allemande, from Suite in C, K399
An encore from Kristian Bezuidenhout.
MARTINŮ: Symphony No 6, 'Fantaisies symphoniques'
The outbreak of World War 2 forced Bohuslav Martinů to leave his homeland Czechoslovakia to live in America. Then just as he was due to return to Prague in 1946, he was left stranded in the West as the Iron Curtain descended across Eastern Europe.
His Sixth Symphony was one of 15 works written to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1955. He also wanted to write something for his old friend from college days, Charles Munch.
Martinů was studying Berlioz scores at Princeton in 1950 and one of the students suggested that the composer write a ‘new Symphonie Fantastique’. In fact, Martinů’s original title for this work was just that, and like Berlioz, he admitted in letters that there were deeply personal and private matters hidden in the work, although he wouldn’t tell anyone what the programme behind the music was.
Martinů was suspicious of the conventions of the symphonic form and when he came to this work he took a new approach, producing a sequence of 3 movements that he described as being "without form" — in effect, a series of variations in 3 movements.
The trumpet theme at the opening of this symphony, which sounds like a sequence of Morse Code, has some critics believing that it was a quote of the flute theme at the beginning of the Sabbath in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
Martinů also quotes himself. In the second movement there is a phrase from his Field Mass, associated with the idea of homecoming, while the finale features both the ancient Bohemian St. Wenceslas Chorale and a fourteen-bar sequence from his opera Julietta, whose plot is a complex and surreal meditation on love, fantasy, and the relationship of reality and the imagination.
Martinů wrote that the reason for including the music from his opera was "thinking that I shall never hear my opera again, I would listen once more to these few bars".
Recorded by RNZ Concert in Auckland Town Hall, 29 September 2022
Engineer: Adrian Hollay
Producer: Tim Dodd