Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April Fool's Concert

The fool in question is me, this morning attempting the impossible piano part of the Franck Violin Sonata (which I have been longing to play for about 15 years). I slipped in Fazil Say's Jazz Fantasy on Mozart's Turkish Rondo as a mid-concert encore (or as a quasi-finale for the 2-movement sonata) which got a few laughs.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Sonata in E minor, K304

Tempo di menuetto

In 1778 the piano was in charge of duo sonatas and got most of the best tunes, occasionally allowing the violin to double up on them. At the recapitulation of the first movement’s main theme the violin gets its one chance to play a melody without it being first introduced by the piano. Unfortunately the jazzy chords being played on the keyboard rather steal the glory at that point! The spare, almost skeletal texture keeps the sonata from being one-sided, however, and Mozart lets the string player sing out as well as accompany the pianist. This is the fourth of Mozart’s nineteen violin sonatas, and probably the darkest. The shimmering brightness of the second movement’s trio section is the only extended passage in a major key. For a few moments the music takes on a hymn-like quality before returning to the wistful minuet, one of Mozart’s most winning melodies. Despite the relative lightness of this second movement the sonata’s dark mood dominates the final bars of the work and gentleness gives way to something much more defiant.

C├ęsar Franck (1822-1890)

Sonata in A major

Allegretto ben moderato
Allegro – quasi Lento – Tempo I – quasi Presto
Recitativo-Fantasia (ben moderato) 
Allegretto poco mosso

In the story of this German-Belgian organist a blow is struck against the cult of youth and shininess everywhere. As a precocious child virtuoso Franck had ‘produced a quantity of flashy, quite worthless display pieces’ (Max Harrison), which even his reverential disciple Vincent d’Indy thought monotonous. He did not pursue the career his pushy father had planned for him, that of an international pianist. Instead, he plunged into hard-working semi-obscurity in the organ loft of St Clotilde’s in Paris for four decades, composing almost nothing. How many musicians flower in their fifties? How many composers manage to produce such original and sublime masterpieces in spare evenings and in retirement? This sonata dates from 1886 and has established itself as perhaps the pinnacle of the repertoire. It displays Franck’s skill as an improviser, sliding effortlessly between keys and sections, alongside his tight control of cyclic form, in which he used and re-used themes and motifs within and between movements. The opening movement is graceful and rarely darkened. The second is very busy, alternating between driving, flowing passages and angry declamations. A pensive, almost mystical mood infuses the third movement, some of the themes of which re-appear in the finale, woven into the extended canon (imitation) of the infectiously lyrical melody.