Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto: An Eruption of Youthful Vitality

Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto begins with a bold announcement. It’s a striking fanfare in the horns which evokes all of the ominous power of the fateful opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. This fanfare unleashes an equally exuberant proclamation in the virtuosic solo piano, which erupts like a force of nature. Filled with audacious youthful vitality, this unstoppable sonic torrent seems to be saying, “My time has come, and nothing is going to get …

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Dvořák’s Cello Concerto: Three Great Performance Clips

Following a youthful attempt at a Cello Concerto in 1865, Antonín Dvořák believed that the instrument was ill-suited to the concerto form. “High up it sounds nasal, and low down it growls,” the composer commented. Dvořák’s attitude changed in a flash on the evening of March 9, 1894 when the New York Philharmonic premiered Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto. Herbert, remembered for frothy Viennese operettas like Babes in Toyland (1903), was on the faculty of New York’s National Conservatory of …

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New Release: Bach Violin Concertos, Shunske Sato and Il Pomo d’Oro

An outstanding new recording of J.S. Bach’s three Violin Concertos came out in October. It features Japanese-American Baroque violinist Shunske Sato and the adventurous period instrument ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, founded in 2012. Sato is currently concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society Orchestra and Concerto Köln. On the album, he is joined by Bulgarian violinist Zefira Valova for a performance of the Concerto for Two Violins. Also included is a reconstruction of the lost Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R. The …

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Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto: An Honest, Neo-Romantic Voice

I myself wrote always as I wished, and without a tremendous desire to find the latest thing possible… – Samuel Barber in a radio interview near the end of his life An unwavering and unapologetic honesty characterizes the music of American twentieth century composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). This is in contrast to the prevailing winds of the academic establishment of the time, who were interested in advancing the musical language in search …

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Radek Baborák Plays Mozart

“You’ve got to hear this horn player named Radek Baborák,” urged one of my Richmond Symphony colleagues during a recent conversation. To hear the extent of Baborák’s technical finesse and musicianship, one only needs to listen to his performance of the famous horn call from Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. Born in Czechoslovakia, Radek Baborák began playing the horn at age eight, was winning competitions by twelve, and became principal horn of the Czech Philharmonic at eighteen. He …

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Five Examples of Bartók’s “Night Music”

Strange, haunting, nocturnal sounds emerge throughout the music of twentieth century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. These passages, which are known as “Night music,” evoke the hum of insects and other distant murmurs we might hear in a lonely field on a summer night. Bartók held a spiritual reverence for “Nature, Art, and Science.” But the “Night music” doesn’t offer the kind of poetic tone painting we hear in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Instead, these moments contain something more vague and terrifying. They surround …

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Henryk Szeryng: Eight Great Recordings

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. “When hearing Szeryng in live performances, one is always struck by the nobility and aristocracy of his concept,” wrote Boris Schwarz in his book, Great Masters of the Violin. In the recordings below, we hear effortlessly shaped phrases and a sense of singing through every note. Born in Poland, Szeryng studied with Carl Flesch in Berlin and was later …

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