Program Notes: Mendelssohn & Schumann

Concert Program

Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955)
Pastorale-Fantaisie pour petit orchestre
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 -1847)
Concerto in E minor for Violin & Orchestra, op.64
I. Allegro molto appassionato
II. Andante
III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)
Symphony No.3 in E-flat major, op.97 (Rhenish)
I. Lebhaft
II. Scherzo: Sehr mässig
III. Nicht schnell
IV. Feierlich
V. Lebhaft

Program Notes

GEORGE ENESCU

Born in Liveni Vîrnav [now George Enescu], nr Dorohoi, Romania, August 19, 1881; died in Paris, May 3/4, 1955   

Pastorale-Fantaisie for small orchestra (1899)

 Composer, conductor, brilliant violinist, skilled pianist and teacher George Enescu divided his time between his adopted city of Paris (where he also adapted the spelling of his name to Georges Enesco) and his native Romania (Bessarabia), where he founded many important institutions and enjoyed royal patronage.  He travelled the world as a celebrated musician – “the greatest musician I have ever known,” in the words of Yehudi Menuhin, one of his many distinguished students.  Enescu’s Pastorale-Fantaisie is an early work, written while the composer was in the final year of his studies with Massenet, Fauré, André Gédalge and others in Paris.  His reputation as a composer only gradually built within the insular world of the Paris Conservatoire.  Outside its walls, the première of his Poème Roumain, Op. 1 was a triumph in 1898 at the Concerts Colonne.  Its 17-year-old composer already had four symphonies and many other large-scale orchestral works in his portfolio, in addition to this epic 30-minute nationalist tone poem.  Buoyed by the work’s public and critical acclaim and Enescu’s confident handling of large orchestral resources, conductor Eduard Colonne commissioned a follow-up piece for the next season.

This was the Pastorale-Fantaisie, for a more modestly sized orchestra.  With its more disciplined approach, the ten-minute tone poem already reveals a more mature Enescu, beyond the unbridled exuberance and sheer confidence in working with a huge orchestra found in the earlier tone poem.  Its opening melody is darkly coloured and contrapuntally woven amongst the strings.  A pulsing bass line shows Brahms and his First Symphony as a clear model.  “My early works were written in an almost slavish imitation of the immortal Johannes,” Enescu later admitted.  A second melody for English horn evolves out of the first – throughout the piece, imaginative writing for the winds adds colour to Enescu’s solidly Brahmsian string writing.  Mysterious horn calls and scurrying strings herald the beginning of a storm which is punctuated by a recollection of both the opening melody and the lovely, pastoral English horn melody.  The storm passes, more themes are developed, the tension dissipates, and the carefully crafted piece ends in the calm of a pastoral landscape.

The première of the Pastorale-Fantaisie on February 19, 1899 was less successful than that of the Poème Roumain.  France had lost its President three days earlier, with the Dreyfuss affair dividing a nation.  The press was encouraging, if muted in its praise; the audience stayed away.  Enescu put the score in the bottom of what was to grow to become a huge drawer of unpublished manuscripts, only now beginning to see the light of day at the Enescu Museum in Bucharest – and thanks to the work of today’s conductor, Gabriel Bebeşelea, who rediscovered the Pastorale-Fantaisie less than three years ago.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN

Born in Hamburg, Germany, February 3, 1809; died in Leipzig, Germany, November 4, 1847

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1838-44)

Mendelssohn’s universally popular Violin Concerto is written for, not against the violin, making it a showcase for both virtuosity and musicality.  In it, the classical and the romantic come together, as do age and youth.  The finale contains much of the exuberance and playfulness found in the music of Mendelssohn’s teenage years – in the Octet or the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Yet the concerto dates from 1844; it was Mendelssohn’s last orchestral work.  “I would like to write a violin concerto for you for next winter; one in E minor is in my head and its opening gives me no peace,” Mendelssohn wrote to his friend and colleague, violinist Ferdinand David.  Six years were to pass before Mendelssohn became more at ease with his violin concerto.  The result of the constant re-working towards perfection of form and expression is a work that sounds fresh and spontaneous, as though it had been set down on paper the day it was conceived.

The concerto contains much that was radically new when it was first performed in 1845.  Its three movements are played without break, and they are joined thematically, since the opening theme generates all the subsequent themes of the concerto.  In the first movement, the soloist enters immediately, instead of waiting for the orchestra to run through the main themes.  Later in the first movement, Mendelssohn composes the soloist’s cadenza into the structure of the movement itself, instead of having it inserted as an improvisation before the orchestral coda.  These features have since become so familiar to us through later concertos that we are apt to forget that they all saw light of day in this concerto.  A romantic change of mood, tempo and key takes us to the serene slow movement.  For the finale, Mendelssohn provides another miracle of invention and continues the intimacy of collaboration between soloist and orchestra.  One of its broad, sonorous melodies is combined with the first sparkling theme with which the concerto opens.

ROBERT SCHUMANN 

Born in Zwickau, Saxony, June 8, 1810; died in Endenich, nr Bonn, July 29, 1856

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 97, Rhenish (1850)

In 1849, a decade into his marriage to the pianist Clara Wieck, having had little success as a conductor in Dresden, Robert Schumann was invited by his friend and colleague Ferdinand Hiller to become municipal music director (kapellmeister) in Düsseldorf.  His wife’s career was thriving (even with five young children); his was not (his skills as a conductor were limited).  Mendelssohn, who had earlier held the same position, cautioned him about the largely amateur orchestra and choral society in Düsseldorf: “the orchestra all enter separately, the flute plays sharp, not a single Düsseldorfer can play a triplet evenly . . .”  Nevertheless, the Schumann family were warmly received when they arrived in the capital and port city of the Prussian Rhineland Province at the beginning of September 1850.

Creatively invigorated by the move from Saxony, where he had lived most of his life, Schumann completed his Cello Concerto in a little over two weeks.  Meanwhile, he had been experiencing Rhenish culture and scenery and made a daytrip with Clara up the Rhine to Cologne, where both marvelled at the city’s gothic cathedral.  They returned at the end of September to witness an impressive ceremonial procession as Archbishop Geissel was elevated to cardinal.  The seeds for a symphonic movement were now sown in Schumann’s mind.  It may well be that a larger symphonic project was also taking shape in his mind, since he was to put all five movements of the Rhenish symphony to paper a few weeks later, during November and early December 1850.  Its fourth movement initially carried the title “In the character of an accompaniment to a celebratory ceremony.”  By the time the symphony was published, the heading was reduced to Feierlich (‘festive’ or ‘ceremonial’).  Schumann also referred to a “slip of paper” on which he had outlined “the poetic content of the symphony,” intending to distribute it at a performance in Cologne cathedral shortly after the première.  The paper was never discovered but, as the late John Daverio has revealed, a close friend of the composer is believed to have leaked this poetic outline to the press.  Daverio goes on to quote an anonymous review after the work’s successful Düsseldorf première, under Schumann’s direction, February 6, 1851.  Here, in the fourth movement, the review says “we see gothic cathedrals, processions, and stately figures in the choir loft.”  The same review refers to the new symphony depicting “a slice of Rhenish life” – a title that Schumann himself did not include on his manuscript score.  But he had already written the same thing to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, saying that the work “perhaps mirrors here and there something of Rhenish life.”  Naturally, Simrock seized on the idea and included it in the printed score.

A festive mood is felt at the very beginning, with Schumann’s headstrong theme, buoyed by an invigorating syncopated beat, portraying something of the energy of river itself, arousing, as the review says, “joyful expectations.” The theme is heard in many guises and its mood evolves from dynamic to pastoral over the course of a thorough and expert symphonic development.  Then comes a scherzo in the Ländler rhythm of a much-loved peasant dance, the more so when the Rhenish wine is flowing.  A gentle, reflective Intermezzo is pure Schumann, dreamy and reflective, where, as the review indicates: “the composer, lost in reflection, rests his head on the window of an old castle.”  The key then changes to the minor, to E-flat minor, a key of tragedy for Schumann.  Trombones, heard for the first time, solemnly intone a chorale, which is slowly shifted from one orchestral section to another and interwoven with countermelodies.  This magnificent movement evokes the splendour of the mighty gothic cathedral alongside the Rhine.  With the finale, in a blink of the eye, we are back outside the cathedral and into a scene of rejoicing.  The movement is a tour de force of thematic development, as memories of earlier melodies are recalled and built into a glorious conclusion.

©2020 Keith Horner
All program notes are written by Keith Horner.  Comments welcomed: khnotes@sympatico.ca

Biographies

Gabriel Bebeselea, conductor

Gabriel Bebeşelea is the Principal Conductor of the “Transylvania” State Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca.

Admired for his enthusiasm and musicality, his reputation grew substantially and rapidly over the last years, establishing him as a fast-rising star of the conducting world.

Highlights of the 2019/20 concert season include his debuts with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Tonkunstler Orchestra, Bochumer Symphoniker and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. In addition, forthcoming engagements include returns to the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” and the Ulster Orchestra.

Recent highlights include appearances at venues such as the Musikverein Vienna, Cadogan Hall London, Tchaikovsky Concert Hall Moscow and the Santa Cecilia Hall in Rome, and with orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” and the Ulster Orchestra.

With the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, he recorded a CD featuring George Enescu’s rediscovered oratorio “Strigoii” (The Ghosts) and his “Pastorale – Fantaisie pour petite orchestre” (edition curated by Gabriel Bebeşelea). The CD was released under the label Capriccio in September 2018.

At 32 years of age, Gabriel Bebeşelea is recognized as “one of the most gifted conductors born in the last decades in Romania” (George Enescu Festival Journal, September 7th 2011) and is winner of the first prize of the “Lovro von Matačić” Conducting Competition (Zagreb 2015) and the first prize in the “Jeunesses Musicales” Conducting Competition (Bucharest 2011). Gabriel Bebeşelea was semifinalist of the “Donatella Flick” Conducting Competition of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2014 and semifinalist of the Gustav Mahler Competition of the Bamberg Symphony in 2016.

A notable opera conductor, Bebeşelea was named Principal Conductor of the Romanian National Opera of Iaşi in 2011, becoming the youngest ever Principal Conductor in Romania. In 2015 he was named Principal Conductor of the National Romanian Opera House of Cluj-Napoca. In 2014 he was presented with the “Best Conductor” award at the Romanian National Opera Houses Awards.

Recent highlights that cemented his good reputation as an operatic conductor includes conducting the new production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” at the Perm Opera and Rossini’s “Il viaggio a Reims” at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. The performances have been highly acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. With the “Transylvania” State Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca, Gabriel Bebeşelea presented semi-staged performances of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre”.

Gabriel Bebeșelea is known to devote himself to researching and rediscovering music and he is responsible for uncovering several long forgotten or neglected musical masterpieces. In 2017, to bring such music to light, he founded the ensemble Musica Ricercata – an international artistic collective dedicated to the historically informed performance of music spanning from the baroque to modern eras, with an emphasis on early music. Besides being the Artistic Director of Musica Ricercata, starting 2019 he is also Artistic Director of the Musica Ricercata Festival in his hometown of Sibiu.

In 2015, Gabriel Bebeşelea studied with two of the world’s most appreciated conductors: Bernard Haitink at the Lucerne Festival at Easter and with Kurt Masur at the Aurora Classical Festival.

Furthermore, in 2011 he was awarded a scholarship consisting of an internship at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, where he had the possibility to assist at the rehearsals and concerts of some of the most representative conductors nowadays: Mariss Jansons, Bernard Haitink, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Philippe Herreweghe, David Zinman and Eliahu Inbal.

In 2010 he graduated with “summa cum laude” from the Cluj-Napoca Music Academy with a Bachelor’s Degree in Orchestral Conducting as a pupil of Petre Sbarcea. Two years later he graduated the Master’s Degree Program of the National University of Music Bucharest as a student of Horia Andreescu’s Orchestra Conducting Class.

In 2018, Gabriel Bebeşelea obtained his PhD with “summa cum laude” at the National University of Music Bucharest for his Doctoral thesis “The Research of the Compositional Manuscripts, Premise and Stake of the Conducting Interpretation” under the guidance of Prof. Dan Dediu.

He currently resides in Vienna where he graduated the Postgraduate Studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, at the class of Prof. Mark Stringer.

Liza Ferschtman, violin

Renowned for her strong musical personality and the versatility of her musicianship, which combines powerful dynamism and intense lyricism, Liza Ferschtman has been praised in the international musical press, with The New York Times describing her as ‘nothing short of revelatory’, and referring to the ‘laserlike intensity, purity and refined beauty of her playing’, while The Guardian commended her ‘vivacious musical personality’ and ‘lovely lyrical quality’.

Since winning the Dutch Music Award, the most distinguished prize for Dutch musicians, in 2006, Liza has appeared as a soloist with many of the world’s top orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic and Brussels Philharmonic, collaborating with conductors including Jaap van Zweden, Iván Fischer, Stéphane Denève, Jacek Kaspszyk, Jun Märkl, Frans Brüggen, Neeme Järvi, Otto Tausk, Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Thomas Søndergård. Liza Ferschtman is also a passionate chamber musician and a popular guest at festivals and concert venues throughout the world; since 2007 she has been artistic director of the Delft Chamber Music Festival. Her chamber music partners include Elisabeth Leonskaja, Jonathan Biss, Alisa Weilerstein, Christian Poltéra, Julius Drake, Martin Roscoe, Nobuko Imai, Lars Anders Tomter, Marie Luise Neunecker, Sharon Kam and Amihai Grosz.

The 2019-20 season includes her debut with BBC Philharmonic Orchestra as well as concerto performances with the Stuttgart Philharmonic, Munich Symphony Orchestra, the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, Het gelders Orkest and the Nertherlands Philharmonic in Europe, while North and Central American performances include the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, the Toledo Symphony and Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco. The season also includes recital tours with Enrico Pace and performances of the Schubert piano trios with Elisabeth Leonskaja and István Várdai / Jakob Koranyi in venues including London’s Wigmore Hall, the Musikverein Wien, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Théâtre des Champs Elysées.

Liza Ferschtman has an impressive discography. Her CDs for Challenge Classics feature violin concertos by Beethoven, Dvořák, Mendelssohn, Korngold and Bernstein (Serenade). She has also recorded chamber music on CD, including Mendelssohn’s Octet, works by Schubert and Beethoven performed with Inon Barnatan and the Kodaly, Ravel and Schulhoff duos performed with her father, the cellist Dmitri Ferschtman. Her most recent CD of the Bernstein Serenade and Korngold Concerto received wide critical acclaim, including five stars in Fono Forum and ‘Album of the Month’ in die Welt. Her earlier CD of  solo works by Bach and Ysaÿe was chosen as ‘CD of the Month’ by The Strad.

The daughter of prominent musicians, Liza grew up in a musical environment in Amsterdam, and as a young child she was soon taking her first violin lessons from the legendary violinist and family friend Philip Hirschhorn. After his death she studied with Herman Krebbers, Ida Kavafian at the celebrated Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and David Takeno in London.