19 Oct 2023

Auckland Philharmonia: Symphonic Dances

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 19 October 2023

It's a programme of Sergeys! Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan plays Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and that's sandwiched between "symphonies" by Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Rachmaninov.

Chloé van Soeterstède from France conducts the Auckland Philharmonia for the first time.

Conductor Chloé van Soeterstède

Chloé van Soeterstède Photo: Olivia da Costa

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

PROKOFIEV: Symphony No 1 in D Op 25, Classical

Sergei Prokofiev wrote his first symphony in 1916 to 17. It’s a joyous celebration of the Classical style of Haydn and Mozart. And that’s ironic on two counts.

First of all, this was at the time of the Russian Revolution so we might be surprised that a young man could bring us something like this from an environment such as that.

The other thing is that Prokofiev in his mid-twenties was known as a bold and irreverant avant-garde composer. Why write in this old-fashioned style? He said he wanted to imagine what Haydn would have written if he had “kept his own style, while absorbing what was new in music.”

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor Op 64

Promo shot of violinist Sergey Khachatryan

Sergey Khachatryan Photo: www.marcoborggreve.com

In 1835, Mendelssohn accepted the position as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. And one of the first things he did was to appoint his old childhood friend Ferdinand David as concertmaster. A couple of years later Mendelssohn proposed to David that he write him a concerto, saying that he had something in E minor running through his head.

But it took a full six years for Mendelssohn to complete the work – no doubt partly due to his heavy workload. He was fully involved in all aspects of Leipzig’s musical life – not only the orchestra, but the opera house, the St Thomas Boys’ Choir (of which Bach had been a director), and the city's other choral and musical institutions.

Throughout these six years, he and David maintained a dialogue about the concerto and David provided many suggestions. In fact, this is one of the first occasions in which a concerto was developed with a professional violinist intimately involved all along the way.

The work sticks to the standard three-movement, fast-slow-fast structure but Mendelssohn was innovative and introduced many new features. Two of the most obvious: the violin comes in almost immediately at the beginning rather than waiting for the usual long orchestral introduction; and the three movements are played together without pauses between. The first transforms into the second through the solo bassoon holding a single B natural out of the final E minor chord of the first. They then raise it gently to C, the first crucial step in the establishment of the new key of C major. So simple, but it’s a magic moment.

What’s not new is Mendelssohn’s elegance, sparkle and wit. The melodies are to die for and so memorable.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

TRADITIONAL Armenian arr Khachatryan: The Apricot Tree

A traditional Armenian folksong for an encore from Sergey Khachatryan.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

RACHMANINOV: Symphonic Dances Op 45

This was to be Rachmaninov's last major composition, and as Heath Lees writes in his programme notes, “throughout his life, the composer had been haunted by the theme of the Last Judgement: the Dies irae motif from the Latin Requiem Mass. Its appearance can be heard in earlier works such as his Third Symphony and the Paganini Variations, and it’s prominent [...] in this work too.”

The three movements are all based on dance as we’d expect ... the second is a waltz. But more than just “symphonic”, the work pretty much is a symphony, making this his Symphony No 4 in all but name.

There’s a large orchestra on stage with harp, piano and a full battery of percussion. And a notable feature is the inclusion of an alto saxophone for a meditative solo in the first movement.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Recorded by RNZ Concert, Auckland Town Hall, 19 October 2023
Producer: Tim Dodd
Enginieer: Adrian Hollay

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes