Inside The Music: Triumph Over Tyranny

Discover more about the music featured in Würth Philharmonic’s Triumph Over Tyranny concert programme, with our video series and interactive programme notes.

It’s the season finale! And making their way to Bristol is one of Europe’s newest orchestras, formed just last year by German entrepreneur Reinhold Würth. This fine ensemble brings with it the very best conducting talent in Stamatia Karampini, who’ll no doubt ensure her orchestra fizzes with energy. And Maxim Vengerov, who’ll be playing not one dazzling showpiece, but two: Saint-Saëns’s dazzling Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso alongside Bruch’s evergreen Violin Concerto, before swapping his violin for a baton to conduct Shostakovich’s biting Tenth Symphony.

VIDEO: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10

Jonathan James delves into Shostakovich’s thrilling Tenth Symphony – a work that purveys a sense of despair and desolation, as well as defiance and triumph. Jonathan shows how Shostakovich achieves this atmosphere in his composition, and unlocks the hidden ciphers this great composer wove into the music.

VIDEO: The underrated mastery of Saint-Saëns

Moments to listen out for

Bruch Violin Concerto – 1st movement
Two and a half minutes into the impassioned opening movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto, the solo violin leads the orchestra into calmer waters and, from the stratosphere, to a beautiful secondary melody.

Bruch Violin Concerto – 2nd movement
Almost six minutes into the second movement of the Bruch, the mood suddenly changes, Bruch painting a new, stormier scene, before the clouds subside almost as quickly as they gather.

Shostakovich Symphony No.10 – 1st movement
Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony takes no prisoners – almost exactly halfway through the grim opening movement, all hell breaks loose, blaring brass and shrill woodwind competing for attention over stabbing strings.

Shostakovich Symphony No.10 – 2nd movement
Just over a minute into the violent second movement Allegro, strings move in rapid, sweeping parallel movement – a brilliant display of orchestral virtuosity. The woodwind then join in in a relentless churning dance.

Shostakovich Symphony No.10 – 3rd movement
Very soon into the third movement Allegretto the notes of the composer’s initials appear: DSCH in German notation is translated as D, E flat, C, B natural – a constant haunting reminder of music’s humanity.

From Strauss’ farce to Shostakovich’s despair

Tonight’s concert takes us from frivolous theatrical farce to one man’s despair and rage in the face of Soviet repression. We start in the realm of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, an operetta with mistaken identity, infidelity and general mischief as its themes – its overture sets the scene with some of the composer’s most memorable tunes. Two violin masterpieces follow: Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso written as a showpiece for the great Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, and Bruch’s 1866 Violin Concerto No. 1 (he wrote two more, but they’re rarely played).

Bruch spent four painful years writing and perfecting the work, struggling with his orchestral balances and the solo violin part itself – he was helped in the latter by the great player Joseph Joachim, the man for whom many composers wrote some of their most important works, including Brahms, Schumann and Dvorák. Joachim clearly knew his stuff: the opening movement is a mighty vehicle for the soloist. An initial tentative, nervous opening gives way to a soaring tune and a stirring orchestral accompaniment that sparks off some of the 19th-century’s most dramatic, virtuosic violin writing. In reality, however, the first movement is but an introduction to the real heart of the concerto, a meltingly beautiful, prayerful Adagio that pays more than a passing homage to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, premiered over 20 years previously. The final movement is a riot of Hungarian dance and rhythm that gives the soloist plenty of chances to shine. Brahms may not have been a fan, but his own Violin Concerto is clearly modelled on Bruch’s.

After the interval we’ll be cast headlong into the darker realm of Shostakovich’s 1953 Symphony No. 10, a mammoth work that emerged more than eight years after the Ninth Symphony made a visceral attack on Russia’s Communist leaders. Not that the Tenth pulls its punches – although this time Shostakovich ensured that it was performed well after Stalin’s death… The great Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya once called the work ‘a composer’s testament of misery, forever damning tyrant.’ Shostakovich had every right to be angry, however – after the decrees of 1948 effectively banning any music not approved by the state, Shostakovich was forced into being secretary of the Composers’ Union, sitting on a board alongside people who had previously tried to silence him. That brooding anger is evident from the vast 22-minute opening movement, growling lower strings the start of an inexorable crescendo towards the first of many climaxes, including a vicious, biting central section as punching brass and swirling woodwind underpin an insistent theme on the strings. The brief, frenetic, brutal second movement is reputedly a portrait of Stalin himself – strings surge at every moment, woodwind scream and percussion and brass bombard the listener. Surely this is one of Shostakovich’s most graphically violent pieces of music.

The more resigned, introverted third movement Allegretto contains musical notes corresponding to the composer’s name and that of one of his piano students, Elmira Nazirova, horns calling out her name; while the final movement, peppered too with references to Shostakovich’s name, is initially uneasy, searching, before the final whirlwind seven minutes find the composer in triumphant mood, as if the death of Stalin has finally freed him from his musical shackles.

Words: Oliver Condy

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