This evening’s concert is in the hands of one of Europe’s foremost chamber orchestras, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1963. Its core membership of 17 string players is extended with other instruments when needed.
The programme consists of works by Edvard Grieg (1843–1907), Peter Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) and Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), interspersed with two more recent and less familiar Hungarian composers, Ferenc Farkas (1905–2000) og György Orbàn (1947–).
Grieg wrote his From the Time of Holberg (Suite in Olden Style), op. 40 in 1884 for piano, and shortly afterwards reworked it for chamber orchestra for the bicentenary of the birth of Ludvig Holberg. It is written in olden style in that it emulates a baroque suite with a prelude and four dances (Sarabande, Gavotte, Air, Rigaudon). Grieg humorously referred to it as a ‘wig piece’. This is how music was composed at the time of Holberg (1684–1754), or alternatively of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) or George Frideric Handel (1685–1759). It is nevertheless unmistakeably Grieg, with little reminiscent of Bach and Handel except for the suite form.
Peter Tchaikovsky composed his Pezzo Capriccioso op. 62 for cello and orchestra in the course of a single week in August 1887. Like his final work, the sixth (Pathétique) symphony, it is in the key of B flat minor, and although labelled capriccioso, it is in serious mood. This was a difficult time for Tchaikovsky, as one of his close friends was at death’s door. The piece is not without lively parts however, but they are found not so much in the general mood as in the imaginative treatment of its relatively simple theme. The work was dedicated to the cellist Anatoly Brandukov, who also gave its first performance, first accompanied by Tchaikovsky himself on the piano, and later by a chamber orchestra.
The final work in the concert is Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings in E major opus 22, which was also composed in a short period – twelve days in May 1875. This was a particularly creative year for Dvořák: he composed his fifth Symphony, his second String Quintet, his first Piano Trio, the Moravian Duets and the opera Vanda. With a newborn son his marriage was fresh and happy, and to top it all he had recently received a stipend from Vienna, the capital city, so his future was looking bright. All of this makes its mark on the serenade: all movements – which apart from the last are in ternary form – are cheerful; the first moderato, the next two a waltz and a scherzo respectively, the fourth a slow contrast to the others, with the third theme of the second movement running through it, and the finale a lively allegro, reminiscent of a Bohemian dance. It is a piece equally enjoyable to perform as to listen to, since Dvořák’s message brings good humour to all.
The central slot of the concert is devoted to two Hungarian composers, Ferenc Farkas and György Orbàn. Farkas wrote his Concertino all’antica for Cello and String Orchestra in 1964. The first movement is a Pastorale, the second an Air with Variations and the finale a Giga. As such the Concertino has certain similarities with Grieg’s Holberg Suite. At the outset Farkas was a neoclassicist, emphasising what he referred to as ‘Latin clarity and proportions’. He had been a pupil of Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936), which had endued him with a classical elegance that he never lost. However, he had also, like Béla Bartók (1881–1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) collected and studied Hungarian folk music, which is evident in his own compositions. Towards the end of his career he worked in a serialistic style rooted in Schönberg’s twelve-tone system. He also taught Györg Ligeti (1923–2006).
Orbán, born in Romania, set out as a western avant-garde composer, but in the mid-1980s he departed from modernism and followed a more neo-romantic path, in common with many other composers. Orbán is best known for his church music, in which he mixes Renaissance and Baroque elements with jazz, but he has also composed secular music, such as his work on this evening’s programme, Farewell to Count Razumovsky.
Text: Gunnar Danbolt
English version: Roger Martin