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Friday, December 29, 2023

A beautiful winding road through chamber music history, that is what this concert is. On the foundations of Mozart’s First Piano Quartet, the journey goes via the world premiere of the intense Poème Élégiaque and an exciting early work by Joaquín Turina to Maurice Ravel’s ever-wonderful Piano Trio. A concert that tells how orchestral a modest chamber music ensemble can sound.

In the 1980s, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the great stars of Viennese cultural life and beloved in musician noble circles. Therefore, in 1785, publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister thought it would be a good idea to ask Mozart to write three piano quartets for the amateur market. Although Mozart, who even then was in constant need of money and embraced every assignment, immediately agreed, he gradually forgot that he was supposed to write for amateurs. Instead, his Piano Quartet in g minor, KV 478 became the first full-fledged piano quartet in history with a piano part that seemed to mainly showcase Mozart’s own virtuosity. Moreover, he wrote the work in the dramatic key of g minor that he usually used for his most profound soulful pieces such as the Symphony No 25 from 1773 and later the famous Symphony No 40 in 1788. Immediately after introducing the main motif in the first movement, Mozart dives into the depths harmonically and sets a work in which, although the piano has the leading role, the strings also enthusiastically join in. The charming Andante, again with an important role for the strings, and the Joseph Haydn-influenced closing Rondo are perhaps slightly more accessible, but also far too difficult for the average amateur of those days. As sales were also lagging, Hoffmeister refrained from further publication and absolved Mozart from writing two more piano quartets.

From Mozart to Richard Dubugnon’s work for solo violin, string quartet and piano seems like a big step, but the Swiss composer, a good friend of Janine Jansen’s for many years, does connect with the world of the classics and especially the Romantics with his subdued Poème Élégiaque. ‘The inspiration came from the title that Janine suggested,’ the composer says of the work. ‘When she asked me to write a new work, I had two options in mind: either an ‘old style’ piece in the form of Bach’s English and French suites, or a one-movement elegy in my current post-romantic idiom. Since I had already written the Piccolo Concerto Grosso for her for the 2021 Zion Festival, she preferred the second option. The title Poème Élégiaque (reminiscent of Ysaÿe’s work of the same name) gave me the mood of the piece, which is written in a large sonata form, with two main themes and some secondary motifs developed in different ways. At two-thirds of the work, an extended codain begins a faster tempo, which is part of the ‘groovy’ style Janine enjoyed in my previous compositions. Poème Élégiaque is really tailor-made for her. Over the years, I have learnt what kind of expressiveness and virtuosity suits her best and what she doesn’t like.’

Today, Joaquín Turina is known as a top Spanish composer. Yet he began his official composer life with works in the style of César Franck and Vincent d’Indy. Not surprising since he had studied at the Scola Cantorum in Paris since 1905. After the premiere of his Piano Quintet, opus 1 in 1907, his compatriots Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla, who were also in Paris, made the suggestion to consult Spanish folk music. This did not fall on deaf ears. With his piano suite Seville and his Sextet, opus 7 for solo viola, string quartet and piano from 1912, he celebrated his Spanish roots. For instance, the two-movement Sextet ‘Escena Andaluza‘, a nickname that came from Turina’s publisher, has a melody inspired by Andalusian song in both movements, while in the first movement (Crepúsculo serenata), the pizzicati in the string quartet recall the Spanish guitar.

Maurice Ravel also appealed to his Spanish, or more precisely, Basque roots in his four-movement Piano Trio from 1914. He began the trio to explore the problems of balance between the piano and the strings; it became a masterpiece in which Ravel forged Basque folk music (Modéré), Malay verse forms (Pantoum), Baroque elements (Passacaille) and classical principles of form (first movement and Finale in which the theme from the first movement returns) into a brilliant unity.

Alexander will give an informal explanation of the evening’s programme in just under half an hour. You will hear interesting (musicological) facts that will make the music sound even more beautiful afterwards!