Richard Wagner was a composer in a class of his own. He was a man with an overweening ego and ambition but fortunately with ability to match. He wanted to combine music, drama, poetry into a composite art form. There is a certain grandeur in his music which is difficult to miss. And in Parsival, his 14th "opera", he had ample room to fulfill this ambition. It's about how the spear with which Christ was said to be wounded on the Cross on First Friday was stolen by the magician Klingsor from Amfortas, the leader of the Knights of the Holy Grail (the Chalice used by Christ at the last supper) guarding it in a Spanish castle and how he used it to wound the latter and how a young man raised in the forest Parsifal decided to retrieve it and return it to Amfortas so that he might be healed. In both cases, it involved a temptress Kundry: whilst Amfortas succumbed, Parsifal was able to resist and in the end, Klingsor was annihilated. There are thus themes of temptation, sin and redemption which are all prefigured by in the Prelude to Act 1 of the opera. And in the third Act, Parfisal finally found the Knights after a number of years on Good Friday, was baptized and then made head of the congregation there after he healed their leader. Thus there are themes of glory and joy in that act, called Good Friday Music. We heard a version of this last Saturday by the HKPO under the guest baton of the German conductor Constantin Trinks, who had conducted the entire series of Wagner's opera. The opening bars by the strings are supposed to portray the dawn in the forest where Parsifal lives. This constantly repeated Parsival motif is followed by the brass theme announcing the solemnity of the Holy Communion and the sanctity of the Holy Grail, evident in the very slow and steady rhythm of the music which ends very softly as the scene ends in some high notes which seems to trail into the infinity of the distant heavens.
The Good Friday Music is also solemn but exudes a certain quiet joy in the final redemption, something which suggests the serenity of heavenly peace and yet intimates hopes of an everlasting glory. Again the Parsifal theme is played but his time, the feeling is quite different. There is no longer that uncertainty suggesting things still to come. He has arrived at his final destination, which is also supposed to be ultimate destination of all of mankind, a realm where there is nothing but peace and the definitive conclusion of all earthly strivings and one is allowed to stroll at leisure and to bathe oneself in the tender light of the divine.
The next piece of the evening is another one of my favourites, Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 54: I Allegro affettuoso (A minor) II Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso (F major) and III Allegro vivace (A major), with the second and third movement fused into one without stopping. We had as pianist a David Fray, whom I heard for the first time. Originally conceived as merely a Fantasia and a gift to his wife Clara Schumann but he later added two more movements to it including the famous second movement, in which we find all he wanted to say to his wife, with typical Schumannesque romanticism, filled with subtle twists and turns of subtle sentiments, a sense of complete ease and sometimes a little childlike fun as the instruments chase each other around. The very long light flowing first movement has some of the most lyrical and beautiful lines he has written, mounting in passion as it progresses, subsiding and rising again in waves after waves, each time slightly different, with constant interchanges between the winds and the piano until it reaches its fiery conclusion. The third is a more serious and passionate matter altogether where the themes are forcefully presented, with the whole orchestra joining in, the piano following its playful solo lines and the orchestra sometimes adding in a bit more disciplined rhythms and finally the two joining in unison to bring the concerto to a glorious conclusion. David Fray played with a great deal of grace and restraint. Sometimes I wish he could have let himself go a bit more and let the piano's really breathe its explosive possibilities.
After the intermission, it was the turn of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)'s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor Op 107, popularly called the Reformation Symphony. This was a piece which Mendelssohn wrote to celebrate the 300 th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession of Martin Luther, with a very serious and solemn first movement in Andante--Allegro con fuoco, a more light hearted and lilting second movement in Allegro vivace, a contemplative third in Andante with one of most beautiful melodies around and the variations of a melody written by Martin Luther himself done with all the force of his conviction in the fourth movement in Andante con moto--Allegro vivace, solemn and forceful and brimming with hope. It was most fitting conclusion to the concert, something which ends with hope and glory. I would not say that the HKPO under Trinks gave one of its best concerts ever. It certainly was one which could have been better especially in the first part of the concert which at places seems to need a bit more coherence. But it was not bad either.