Winner of the Tchaikovsky Medal, Sergey Antonov makes his first Pro Arte appearance in Saint-Saëns’ demanding cello concerto, lead by returning Boston Lyric Opera Music Director David Angus. The enthusiasm continues with Mozart’s Paris Symphony and dance interpretations by Fauré and Ravel.
By Pamela Feo
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite)
Ravel chooses five tales for his suite. The Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty), is a delicate evocation of the measured and stately step of the pavane, a courtly dance of the Renaissance. Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb) tells the story of Tom Thumb’s adventures in the forest, where birds eat the breadcrumbs he had left as a trail to find his way home. The chirping of the birds is heard in the violin and flute pairing, and the constant changes in meter show Tom’s growing predicament. In Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes (Laideronnette, Emperess of the Pagodas), a girl upon whom a witch has cast a spell to make her ugly (the spell gets reversed in the end) has traveled to a far-off land of tiny people (pagodes) who play instruments made of walnut and almond shells. Its incorporation of the pentatonic scale is typical of the “orientalism” which was popular among Ravel and his contemporaries. Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête (Conversations of Beauty and the Beast) captures the moment when the Beast becomes human. Beauty’s melody, a lilting waltz, is introduced by the clarinet. The contrabassoon, the lowest member of the orchestra, represents the Beast’s entreaties. When Beauty says she will marry him, a harp glissando signals the Beast’s transformation, and in his new form he is represented by solo violin. Le Jardin féerique (The Enchanted Garden), spins a shimmering conclusion to the suite. The Princess awakens as the day is breaking, and the ensemble surges in the splendor of a fairy tale ending.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 33
The prolific Camille Saint-Saëns wrote for every genre of French music in his day, but his mark on the development of national culture goes beyond his compositions—together with his friend Romain Bussine, he founded the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871, with the purpose of promoting the music of their country. An emphasis on supposedly French compositional characteristics such as clarity, logic, and balance, helped develop a national style that distinguished itself from the dominant German Romantic influences of the nineteenth century.
The concerto is one of the favorites of—and one of the most challenging for—cello soloists today. It is written in one continuous movement with three clearly differentiated sections. The opening, too, is innovative: the Allegro non troppo does not begin with the conventional orchestral introduction, but instead features solo cello in a cadenza-like passage, punctuated only briefly by the rest of the ensemble. From the start, then, it is the cello’s commanding and fiery energy that drives the work. This opening also provides the material which will be developed throughout the concerto, uniting all three sections.
Mozart Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297(300a), “Paris”
In the autumn of 1777, Mozart left for a tour of several European cities, accompanied by his mother. They arrived in Paris in April of the following year, where Mozart hoped to find a job and settle for a while.
His letters from Paris are filled with detailed accounts of his work, including in-depth narration of the premiere by the Concert Spirituel of his Symphony No. 31, which had already been performed privately in the home of Count Sickingen on June 12. Mozart writes that the concert was “performed with great applause,” proving successful in spite of his disappointment with the rehearsals. His letters also reveal his astute assessment of Parisian audiences, and his compositional strategies which resulted from his observations of them. For example, he played with audience expectations by foregoing the usual tutti opening of the final Allegro movement, as was the practice in Paris, instead scoring for two violins playing softly and answered by a forte phrase; he wrote, “the audience, as I expected, said ‘hush’ at the soft beginning, and when they heard the forte, began at once to clap their hands.” Also of note is that the orchestra available to him was larger than what he had previously written for, and his Paris Symphony is the first one in which he included clarinet—an instrument that would feature prominently in his later works.