We met a week later that normal to avoid a clash with the Easter holidays. We began by listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet No 2, opus 18 written for 2 violins, viola and cello. Beethoven wrote three sets of string quartets and this was part of the early series written around 1798 to 1800. The numbering of the quartets does not follow the chronological order in which they were written. No 3 was written first followed by No 1 and then No2. Presumably, Beethoven considered that the quartet in F major (No 1) was particularly successful and therefore worthy of first place. The series was commissioned by and dedicated to his patron, Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz. Prior to 1780 the string quartet was regarded as a somewhat lightweight genre, but was raised to new heights by works written by Haydn, under whom Beethoven was a pupil, and Mozart. Beethoven took hold of the form and completely transformed it. The second quartet has four movements, allegro, adagio contabile, scherzo and allegro molto. The version we heard was played by the Quartetto Italiano.
Next, we heard the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no15 in B flat played by Alfred Brendel with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. It is a concertante work for piano and orchestra meaning that individual sections of the orchestra have prominent roles to play as well as the pianist. Many pianists consider this to be one of the most difficult of Mozart’s piano concertos. Mozart began to use the term ‘grand’ to describe concertos which feature a prominent wind section for the ensemble. The concerto is made up of an initial allegro movement, a slow middle andante movement and a final allegro movement which is the one we heard. The concerto was written in 1784 for performance at a series of concerts at the Vienna venues of the Trattnerhof and the Burgtheater in March 1784 with Mozart as the soloist.
After that we had a definite change with variations on a theme of ‘I got rhythm’ by George Gershwin played on two pianos by the Labèque sisters, Katia and Marielle. Gershwin used his favourite song ‘I got rhythm’ to compose a set of variations for two piano and orchestra in 1934 which he dedicated to his brother Ira. The Labèque sisters were born in Bayonne in 1959 and 1952 and their mother gave them piano lessons at the age of 3 and 5. They graduated from the Paris Conservatoire in 1968 at the age of 18 and 16 and went on the develop an international career playing works for four hands and two pianos.
After this we listened to the concerto for two mandolins and strings (RV532) by Vivaldi played by Ugo Orlandi and Dorina Frati with the orchestra I Solesti Veneti conducted by Claudio Scimone. Vivaldi composed over 500 concerti for various instruments, mostly the violin, during his work at the Ospidale della Pieta, a home for natural female children of the aristocracy. Many of the scores have been lost but more recently a series of scores were discovered in the archives of the Salesian Monastery in Bergamot in Italy and among them was the double mandolin concerto which, as a result, has become well known. The mandolin was an early stringed instrument, also known as a soprano lute. It was a small instrument, conveniently portable. It was not known for its volume or staying power and in this piece the orchestral background is muted to enable the soloist instruments to be heard, the main strings are played pizzicarto in the slow second movement.
We finished the afternoon by hearing Schumann’s Piano Concerto No 1 in A minor op 54 played by the great Arthur Rubinstein with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josef Krips. The work originally began as a single movement Phantasie and had its premier at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig on the 13th August 1841with Clara Schumann, playing the solo instrument. However, Schumann failed to interest any publisher in the work and was persuaded by his wife, Clara, to revise and transform it into a full three movement concerto. It remains the only piano concerto that Schumann finished. The complete concerto had its premier in Dresden on 4th December 1845 again with Clara as the soloist. The work has gone on to become one of the most widely performed and recorded piano concertos of the Romantic Period and it may have influenced Greig in composing his own Piano Concerto also in A minor. It is often paired with the Greig concerto in recordings. Arthur Rubinstein is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time and he received international acclaim for his performances of the music written be a variety of composers and many regard him as one of the greatest Chopin interpreters of his time