Tuesday, 20 January 2009

King of Hearts

Only last week I was on this web-page, accompanying Jane in a very exhilarating recital. Rarely have I been so exhausted at the end of a concert (and rarely have there been so few empty chairs!). The King of Hearts in Norwich is a truly inspiring place. I hope to return...

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Sonata in D major, Op.12, No.1

Allegro con brio
Tema con variazione (Andante con moto)
Rondo (Allegro)

Beethoven’s first three violin sonatas were dedicated to his teacher, Salieri (an Italian composer who didn’t poison Mozart). They display clear adherence to classical forms and were designated sonatas ‘for piano and violin’, with the emphasis definitely on the piano. In these early works Beethoven was writing music for the concert platform and music to pay the bills, not music driven by a need to express deep inner passions. The first movement is robust, driving forwards, and Beethoven achieves remarkable lyricism and tenderness with what is essentially a collection of arpeggios oiled with a few scales. The four variations of the second movement are exceedingly inventive, beginning gracefully in an almost Mozartian vein, passing through brutality (the third) and ending in simplicity. The finale is cheeky, almost folksy. Its sudden accents and surprising changes of key give hints of what Beethoven was later to achieve, and the dialogue between the two instruments is more effective here than at the start of the work.

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Abodah (God’s Worship)

The programme continues, rather more earnestly, with a move to America in 1929. Bloch had left Switzerland and his father’s clock business ten years previously. He had established himself as a self-consciously “Jewish” composer, winning prestigious prizes as he also worked as a violin teacher and conductor. He is generally known for his serious, almost tortured style, but was capable of turning out lighter music. In 1924 he penned this salon-like Mélodie. It is in a simple enough A-B-A form, almost naïve in places, but the adventurous harmonies stray far from its home key of D major. More typical is Abodah, ‘a Yom Kippur melody’ (i.e. written to mark the Day of Atonement) which was a present for the young Yehudi Menuhin. It opens and closes with Bloch’s characteristic double-dotted rhythms, and makes full use of the violin’s dark sonorities. The form is rhapsodic, building to several climaxes, the violin always slipping from duple to triple rhythms, perhaps an echo of the human voice calling out in prayer.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Sonata in F major, Op.8

Allegro con brio
Allegretto quasi Andantino – più vivo – Tempo I
Allegro molto vivace

After two surprising (random?) chords, Grieg launches into his spirited Allegro. As a very young composer he was perhaps too scrupulous in his observance of classical forms, but he makes up for it by the genius of his melodies and his risky (for 1865!) harmonies. The second movement combines a reflective minor-key Minuet with a jolly Trio inspired by the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, a folk instrument he was to imitate in several of his late piano works. The themes of both parts of the movement are built from the famous Grieg-motif (most prominent in the opening of the ubiquitous Piano Concerto) – the notes A, G(#) and E. The finale is a good-natured romp in sonata form, as full of chromaticism as the rest of the work and, if anything, even more playful and triumphant