After having recovered from the Christmas Festivities it seemed only right to look forward to Easter, so we started off by listening to the first three sections of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, the Prologue and the prophesy of the Crucifixion. It was probably first performed on Good Friday, April 11th 1727, although the first performance may have been as late as 1729, at the St Thomas Kirche in Liepzig, where Bach was Cantor and responsible for music in the church. The words are taken from the Lutheran bible together with some free verse written by Christian Friedrich Henrici who used the pen name Picander. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music. It was written on a substantial scale for two choirs and two orchestras and two organs. The version we listened to was conducted by John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi, Choir, The London Oratorio Junior Choir and the English Baroque Soloists and was recorded at the Maltings, Snape in 1988.
Then we heard the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1 played by the famous Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau. The piece was written in 1795 and, although it is always referred to as the first, there were in fact two previous piano concertos which were never published. It is well known that Beethoven suffered from profound deafness later in life but it seems he was able to appreciate some music by using a rod connected to the piano with the vibrations passing directly to his bones. The same system is used today by engineers looking for leaks in water mains to enable them to detect the noise created by the escaping water.
Continuing on the piano theme we listened to Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie opus 61 in A flat major played by Alfred Brendel, recorded in 1968 in Vienna. The piece was composed and published in 1846. The piano had developed significantly from its invention around 1700. The early pianos were restricted to 5 octaves whereas by Chopin’s time they had been expanded to seven octaves and felt had replaced the leather used in the hammers of the earlier pianos.
After that we had a change in style when we listened to two tracks from the CD Dreamcatcher, a collection of the greatest hits from the Irish Norwegian duo Secret Garden who had the dubious honour of winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995 with their song Nocturne. The duo consists of Fionnuala Sherrry from Ireland who plays the violin and the Norwegian, Rolf Løvland on piano and keyboards. They play Irish jig music as well as some semi classical pieces, their music defies classification into a specific genre; they leave it to the listener to decide. We heard Sigma and Song from a Secret Garden.
We finished by hearing the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto played by Takado Nishizaki and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Jean. The work was conceived in 1838 as a concerto written for Ferdinand David the leader of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra of which Mendelssohn was principle conductor. However, the actual concerto was not published until six years later. Mendelssohn sought technical and compositional advice from David throughout the lengthy gestation of the piece. When it received its premiere in 1845 with David as the soloist it proved to be an instant success. By the end of the nineteenth century the piece was considered to be one of the greatest violin concertos in the repertoire. In 1906, a year before his death, the celebrated violinist, Joseph Joachim, told the guests at the composer’s 75th birthday celebrations; “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, most seductive, was written by Max Bruch, but the most inward, the heart’s jewel is Mendelssohn’s.”