Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Krystian Zimerman and Simon Rattle

“A class above any other pianist around”: The Guardian wrote about Krystian Zimerman. The pianist and the Berliner Philharmoniker are now celebrating the 40th year of their artistic collaboration with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. In addition, Simon Rattle will present Edward Elgar’s charming, neo-Baroque Introduction and Allegro for Strings, a new work by the British composer Julian Anderson and the hot-blooded Slavonic Dances op. 46 by Antonín Dvo?ák.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Sir Simon Rattle Conductor

Krystian Zimerman Piano

Edward Elgar

Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orchestra

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

Krystian Zimerman Piano

Julian Anderson

Incantesimi, commissioned jointly by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Première

Antonín Dvořák

Slavonic Dances op. 46

Dates and Tickets

Wed, 08 Jun 2016 8 p.m.

Philharmonie | Introduction: 7:00 pm

Serie E

Thu, 09 Jun 2016 8 p.m.

Philharmonie | Introduction: 7:00 pm

Serie A

Programme

In 1975, Krystian Zimerman, who was just 19 years old at the time, was catapulted to the top of the ranks of international pianists by winning First Prize at the Warsaw Chopin Competition. One year later he gave his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker. But the young pianist soon recognized the danger of getting artistically worn down on the international concert circuit and drew his own conclusions: Zimerman restricted the number of his performances, and selected very carefully the orchestras he wanted to work with. From then on, the Berlin Philharmonic has been one of the orchestras where Zimerman’s perfectionism has fallen on fertile ground. In these three concerts, Zimerman and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle celebrate the 40th year of their artistic collaboration by performing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.

Also on the programme: music by Edward Elgar, Antonín Dvořák and the premiere of a work by the English composer Julian Anderson, on whom the Evening Standard bestowed the title “most talented composer of his generation”. Elgar’s Introduction and Allegrofor Strings op. 47 was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and was premiered by them under the composer’s baton in March 1905. The idea of writing a “brilliant, quick string scherzo” that even contains “a devil of a fugue” can be traced back to an employee of the London music publisher Novello who was a friend of Elgar’s. Dvořák’s eight Slavic Dances op. 46 constitute a timeless homage to the folk music of their composer’s Bohemian-Moravian home. Julian Anderson’s new orchestral piece, finally, is the first of a series of premieres commissioned by Sir Simon and the Berliner Philharmoniker starting this season.

About the music

International and Virtuosic

Works by Elgar, Beethoven, Anderson and Dvořák

A German writer at the beginning of the 20th century described Britain as the “land without music”. A stab in the back? On the Continent the opinion was widely held that the English had produced no composers of stature since Purcell, confining themselves to musical guest workers like Handel and Haydn. But this assessment is mistaken: in the first decades of the 20th century, a series of English composers attracted considerable attention abroad as well as at home. Among them was Edward Elgar, born in 1857 in Broadheath, near Worcester.

Homage to the string sections: Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro op. 47

Elgar became famous through the “Enigma” Variations op. 36 of 1898-99. Along with his orchestral marches Pomp and Circumstance op. 39 and the Cello Concerto op. 85 it is still in every orchestra’s repertoire. Far less familiar is the Introduction and Allegro for strings op. 47. This work, which plays for about a quarter hour, was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, which played its premiere under the composer’s direction on 8 March 1905. Elgar took the opportunity of spotlighting the orchestra’s string sections. At the same time, the work is a playful reminiscence of forms and compositional techniques of the past. The scoring for four solo strings and orchestra recalls the tradition of the Baroque concerto grosso. The Allegro section’s sonata-movement form, on the other hand, is indebted to Classical models, but Elgar replaces the development section with a fugue.

Self-expression and appeal: Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto

In his first years in Vienna, Ludwig van Beethoven initially made his name as a pianist, especially with his extraordinary aptitude for free improvisation. Vienna’s Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung wrote in May 1799: “Beethoven’s playing is extremely brilliant but has less delicacy, and occasionally he is guilty of indistinctness. He shows himself to the greatest advantage in improvisation.”

Beethoven’s first two piano concertos provide the soloist with rhapsodically free passages, including suggestions of improvisation. With their extraordinarily pianistic solo writing, they can be said to establish a new type of concerto. No. 4 in G major, op. 58 explores rather different paths. The unaccompanied passage with which the pianist opens the work suggests Beethoven musing at the piano. It is then taken up by the orchestral strings before – with the winds participating – it acquires clearly outlined thematic substance. Some of the character of the middle movement – a distinct dialogue – is already anticipated here, but the piano and orchestra argue with, not against, each other. A second theme, creating contrast in the G major context more harmonically (A minor) than melodically, paves the way for an abundant development, though its modulatory richness is surpassed by that of the recapitulation.

Its dramatic dialogue has caused the terse middle movement to be linked with the ancient myth of Orpheus. At least as plausible an interpretation could be based on the biographical circumstances surrounding this music: the Fourth Piano Concerto would be Beethoven’s last contribution to the genre to be given its premiere with the composer as soloist before his deafness.

Beethoven balances out the contrast between the symphonic first movement and the instrumental recitative of the middle movement with the seamlessly connected final rondo. This movement, rich in compositional subtleties, belongs to the tradition of the virtuosic finale and is crowned by a cadenza again redolent of the composer’s improvisations.

Something new from the “sound-alchemist’ workshop”: Anderson’s Incantesimi

That Julian Anderson, born in 1967, is an artistic cosmopolitan was already confirmed by Faber Music, the London-born composer’s publisher until 2014, which observes that his music “is characterised by a fresh use of melody, vivid contrasts of texture and lively rhythmic impetus. He has a continuing interest in the music of traditional cultures from outside the Western concert tradition. He has a special love for the folk music of Eastern Europe – especially of the Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian traditions – and has also been much influenced by the modality of Indian ragas.” Anderson’s teachers included John Lambert in London, Alexander Goehr in Cambridge and Tristan Murail in Paris, distinguished figures who surely contributed to the breadth of his musical interests. In a recent review of the German premiere of Anderson’s opera Thebans, the journalist Ulrike Gondorf marvelled at his compositional ingenuity: “How has the composer created all this in his sound-alchemist’s workshop; what vocal effects using an invisible chorus has he combined to produce something so incredible? Anderson proves himself to be a sound researcher and orchestrator without equal in contemporary music.”

His newest orchestral work is a joint commission of the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation (Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker), London Philharmonic Society and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dedicated to Sir Simon Rattle, the piece is entitled Incantesimi (Magic Spells). As gleaned from a compositional draft, the work opens with a musical layering that gradually increases in dynamic level and rhythmic accentuation. From this are extracted melodic structures, first on strings, then on individual woodwind. With the entries of flutes and piccolo, the tonal space expands and leads to a passage in which very fast wind runs are overlaid with melodic string lines. The sudden return to the opening dynamic level marks the work’s first caesura, which suggests a new beginning. In the further course of events, there are surprising contrasts in the texture, in the rhythmic foundation and in the dynamics, the accentuation of which is enriched by special timbral values (Japanese wooden clappers). A brief cor anglais (English horn) solo leads to a final development, at first marked by pattern-like blocks of sound. Following an orchestral crescendo, another cor anglais solo over syncopated-triplet accents on the woodblock leads to a contemplative, ppp ending.

“Divine naturalness” for 300 marks: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances op. 46

“A divine naturalness flows through this music,” enthused the critic Louis Ehlert in a review published on 15 November 1878 in the Berlin National-Zeitung. “It contains nothing laboured or contrived.” Ehlert was characterizing two compositions by Antonín Dvořák that had recently appeared in Berlin: the piano-accompanied Moravian Duets and the Slavonic Dances op. 46 for piano four hands. The latter work was commissioned by Dvořák’s new publisher Fritz Simrock, who – without guaranteeing a fee – asked him to write a cycle taking Brahms’s Hungarian Dances as a model. Dvořák complied but widened the prescribed horizon, finding his inspiration in the music of various eastern European nations. The great success of the Slavonic Dances in the original piano version immediately prompted Dvořák to make virtuosic arrangements of the eight numbers for orchestra. Now Simrock was prepared to pay the composer a fee of 300 marks.

Mark Schulze Steinen

Translation: Richard Evidon

Biography

Krystian Zimerman was born in Zabrze (Poland), the son of a pianist. After early piano lessons from his father, he became a pupil of Andrzej Jasinski at the age of seven. Jasinski remained Zimerman’s only teacher. The musician started performing in public at an early age, but his real career began when he won not only the first prize, but also a gold medal and all the special prizes as the youngest of 118 participants from 30 countries at the 10th Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1975. As early as one year later, he performed for the first time with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, Carlo Maria Giulini and Herbert von Karajan have had a major influence on Krystian Zimerman’s artistic development. He works with major European and American orchestras under the baton of conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa,, and André Previn. Since 1986 the pianist has dedicated up to twelve of his concerts to charitable events every year. He also tries not to give more than 50 concerts a year in total. Krystian Zimerman’s numerous CD releases include a recording of Witold Lutosławskiʼs Piano Concerto, which was composed for the pianist in 1987, and the First Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms, both together with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. In concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the artist most recently appeared in November 2015 in a recital with Franz Schubert’s late Piano Sonatas D959 and D960.

(c) Hiromichi Yamamoto/DG