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2016年11月27日 星期日

Dvorak and Tchaikovsky in Hong Kong (在香港的德伏扎克與柴可夫斯基)

I have a predilection for Russian conductors which the country's authorities allow to leave it. I don't know why. Maybe there's something in the Slavic soul which makes them feel very deeply about the music they play  and which enables them to express it in the way they handle the music. Whatever the reason may be, that intuition proved right again last night and made it one of the best concerts I have had for some time. Last night, we had Vasily Sinaisky as the guest conductor of the HKPO. He played for us two pieces Dvorak's Cellos Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 and Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, Op 58. As solo cellist, we had Alban Gerhadrt.

Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote the cello concerto in 1895 whilst he was in America on a theme which he wrote more than 3 decades ago when he was still 24 in 1865 and another melody he previously wrote for his first love in 1887 viz.  Josephina, his wife Anna's sister, shortly after she died, something he incorporated into the second and the last movement.  When he wrote the cello concerto, Josephina had just died. He was prompted to pick up his old cello concerto after hearing another cellist composer Victor Herbert, the cellist in the orchestra which premiered his New World Symphony, did his in America to very good effect. The orchestra starts the concerto very softly and then quickly became strong and dramatic and then turns soft again when the cello comes in with its main theme, meanders before coming to the end in full force again, alternating throughout with passages by the cello and the orchestra.  The second contains a very moving melody, alternating with the flute, the cello and the orchestra. The final movement again is full of contrast between soft and strong passages, thus creating impossible tension. Alban Gerhardt played with a great deal of delicacy and restraint but I couldn't help feeling that he could have played with a slightly stronger sound in some of the passages. 





The second half of the concert was Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, the only one he had not numbered. It's programme music, based on a plan written by the critic Vladimir Stasov and amplified by the nationalist composer Mily Balakirev, who however did not feel he could complete it .It was then passed to Berlioz,  a great programme music composer, who likewise thought he could not do it before it finally came into the hands of Tchaikovsky, who was touched by the original story in a poem by the romantic poet Lord Byron, which some thought to be autobiographical. The dramatic poem was written by Byron in 1816-17, whilst he exiled himself to Switzerland because of a scandal about his rumored affair with his half sister Augusta Leigh. As Tchaikovsky was gay, he was touched by the themes of forbidden passion and guilt in that poem. He spent 4 months on the symphony, which he alternatively thought one of his greatest and utterly worthless. The symphony in Lento lugbre, Vivace con spirito, Andante con moto, Allegro con fuoco has a complete programme, as written by Stasov, which sets out the the 4 movement story as follows: 
I: Manfred wanders in the Alps. Weary of the fatal question of existence, tormented by hopeless longings and the memory of past crimes, he suffers cruel spiritual pangs. He has plunged into occult sciences and commands the mighty powers of darkness, but neither they nor anything in this world can give him the forgetfulness to which alone he vainly aspires. The memory of the lost Astarte, once passionately loved, gnaws his heart and there is neither limit nor end to Manfred's despair; 
II: The Fairy of the Alps appears before Manfred through the rainbow of spray from a waterfall; 
III: Pastorale. The simple, free and peaceful life of the Alpine hunters & 
IV: The subterrannean palace of Arimanes. Manfred appears in the centre of a bacchanal Evocation and appearance of the shade of Astarte. He is pardoned. Death of Manfred. 

The symphony is full of fire, rapture, tortuous feelings but ends triumphantly and is given a religious closing through the use of the organ which appears only in the final movement. Vasily Sinaisky and the HKPO together gave a truly unforgettable performance last night. it's not easy at all to play the Manfred Symphony right. But they did it last night.