They’re soloists at heart, but love the teamwork and sense of corporate purpose. And the gossip. Some musicians find just as big a thrill playing in a vast symphony as they do out at the front starring in a concerto. All hail those world-class musicians who contributed their gifts to orchestras – some for a few years, others for a life-time. Here, Helen Wallace presents six of the very finest…
James Galway, flute (born 1939; above)
The son of a Belfast dockworker turned ‘Man with the Golden Flute’ loves to tell the story of how he turned down the Berlin Philharmonic. He was late for the audition, but so staggered them with his virtuosity they were compelled to offer him the job of principal flute.
Feeling they hadn’t minded their manners, he turned them down and returned to London, where he had a busy career playing at Covent Garden and the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic and BBC orchestras.
After a begging letter he agreed to ‘try it for a month’ and stayed six years during Herbert von Karajan’s tenure: ‘It was the most amazing experience of my life. I couldn’t believe an orchestra could play like that.’ He shocked many when he quit, aged just 35, to pursue a solo career.
Gingold, born in Belarus, could very well have been a soloist but chose instead the life of the concert master. He studied in Belgium with Eugene Ysaÿe, and gave the first performance of the composer’s Solo Sonata No. 3.
In 1937 he was picked for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and played under Toscanini, going on to be concertmaster and soloist in the Detroit SO and then at Cleveland Orchestra under Georg Szell.
He taught a generation of concert masters including William Preucil, Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, and the young Joshua Bell, who said of him: ‘Gingold was one of the most sincere and beautiful music makers that I’ve ever heard… He loved the violin so much it never left his hand from morning till night.’
The fabled power and lustre of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s brass section owed much to the legendary Adolf ‘Bud’ Herseth.
Principal trumpet for more than half a century, Herseth entered the orchestra in 1947, played under no fewer than six music directors – Arthur Rodzinski, Fritz Reiner, Rafael Kubelik, Jean Martinon, Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim – all of whom stood in awe of his technical prowess, impeccable musicianship, and a cast-iron embouchure that was still serving him in his 80th year (2001).
Although Herseth logged well over 50 solo appearances, he always thought of himself as an orchestral player: ‘I turned down some very tempting offers to stay in Chicago. To me, the biggest thrill of all [is] to be in a band like this, with colleagues like these.’
This much-celebrated soloist came to the world’s attention when the Berlin Philharmonic players voted to kick her out of the orchestra. A prodigy, she already had a position in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra when she joined the Berlin Philharmonic in 1982, only the second female to do so.
Herbert von Karajan insisted that Meyer be engaged after her probationary period, but the players voted 73 to 4 that she should leave, saying it was because her sound didn’t blend in with the section.
But Karajan and other observers strongly suspected the reason was her gender, and fought for her to stay. She did so for nine months, leaving in 1983 to pursue a successful career as a soloist and chamber player, and made numerous recordings for EMI.
A cellist of consummate mastery, Starker’s searing focus and cool, interpretative brilliance can be heard on more than 150 recordings, including those with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Born in Budapest, he was was principal cellist of the Budapest Opera and Budapest Philharmonic shortly after graduating from the Liszt Academy.
As a Jew, he was never granted citizenship in Hungary, and left in 1946 to become principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati, before moving to the Metropolitan Opera, where he encountered Fritz Reiner, who took him to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1952.
By this time, he was already internationally celebrated for his monumental recordings of Kodály’s Solo Sonata. In 1958 he moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he devoted himself to teaching the next generation of principal cellists for the rest of his life.
The tough, charismatic Australian remains the world’s most recorded horn player. Aged just 19, he arrived in London and worked his way up through regional orchestras until the LSO poached him as principal horn from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
He remained there for 13 years, making as big an impact as chairman of the board as he did on music-making, repositioning the LSO as the capital’s top ensemble with manager Ernest Fleischman, effectively ousting him when it was felt he exceeded his powers.
His plangent artistry can be heard on many recordings, particularly the Decca set of Britten’s works, including the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. His famous advice to André Previn if he got lost in a complicated piece was ‘Look vague and elegant and we’ll fix it’. He left in 1968 to pursue a solo career, and then turned to conducting.
This week's free download is the second movement of Haydn's Piano Sonata No. 58 in C, performed by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on the Chandos label. The recording was selected as the Instrumental Choice in the October issue of BBC Music Magazine.
The disc this recording comes from is Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's seventh volume of Haydn Piano Sonatas. There is constant debate in the musical world about which sonatas are, in fact, written by Haydn himself. Many of the sonatas were written for his students to focus on specific aspects of technique.
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The 19th instalment of the Leeds International Piano Competition came to its conclusion on Saturday night, with Boston-based Eric Lu announced as its winner. The 20-year-old American pianist secured the top prize following his confident and vivacious rendition of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.
24 pianists began the competition two weeks prior, following initial rounds in Berlin, New York and Singapore. Five then made it through to the final weekend, with each finalist performing a concerto accompanied by the Hallé orchestra under the baton of Edward Gardner.
Lu’s prize includes an invitation to perform the Beethoven concerto at the opening concert of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s season this Thursday, an album release on Warner Classics, career management from a leading agency, further concert engagements and performance and recording opportunities on BBC Radio 3.
The runners-up, Mario Häring from Germany and Xinyuan Wang from China, were awarded recital opportunities at Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool and Wigmore Hall in London. Lu, Häring and Wang all received major cash prizes on top of these performance engagements.
The Leeds International Piano Competition was founded in 1963, and has a stellar list of alumni to its name, including Murray Perahi, Radu Lupu, András Schiff and Mitsuka Uchida.
After 95-year-old chairman and artistic director Dame Fanny Waterman stepped down in 2015, newly-appointed joint directors pianist Paul Lewis and conductor and former BBC Radio 3 editor Adam Gatehouse announced major changes for the festival, including a range of outreach activities across Leeds and a greater focus on post-competition mentoring. ‘Many of the world’s greatest pianists have started out at The Leeds and I’m certain all the 2018 finalists have bright futures,’ says Lewis. ‘We look forward to supporting what we believe to be successful and fulfilling careers.’
Based on a poem by Eugène Adenis – itself based on Goethe’s Faust – Boulanger crafted a thirty-minute cantata for choir and orchestra, featuring solo parts for mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone. The work won her the 1913 Prix de Rome, the first time the prize had been awarded to a woman composer. She is said to have written it in just four weeks.
Du fond de l’abîme (1914-17)
This ambitious work, based on Psalm 130, was on Boulanger’s writing desk for a long while, largely thanks to the outbreak of war. During the war years, the composer volunteered for the Franco-American Committee; she also became quite ill during this period. The work is arranged for contralto, tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra.
Another work which Boulanger had to find time to return to during the war years was her take on a Buddhist prayer (indeed ‘a daily prayer for the whole universe’). An intensely spiritual work, it remains one of the composer’s greatest accomplishments and sits in quite stark contrast to the more nihilistic Du fond de l’abîme of the same period.
La princesse Maleine (1916-18)
The writer Maurice Maeterlinck was no stranger to his works being taken on by composers; the most famous example might be Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Maeterlinck’s La princesse Maleine, however, was one piece he was quite protective of. The only composer he allowed to take it on was Lili Boulanger. It’s said she identified greatly with Maleine, but progress on the five-act opera was slow and she struggled to complete the work. Only fragments of it remain, which leads most scholars to believe it went unfinished.
D’un soir triste / D’un matin de printemps (1917-18)
This two-part work was completed just a couple of months before her death in 1918, the first half being the moving portrait D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening). Boulanger originally arranged the piece for cello and piano. The second half, D’un matin de printemps (Of a spring morning), is the sprightlier of the two works that make up this musical diptych, and was originally arranged for flute/violin and piano. Both halves were also arranged for piano trio and orchestra.
Pie Jesu (1918)
Her final work, the Pie Jesu is a deeply emotional and personal work that is in many ways her own Requiem. So unwell was she while working on the music, she actually finished it on her deathbed, dictating what was required to her sister. Nadia Boulanger is said to have been so distraught at Lili’s death, she turned her back on her own composing and decided to focus on teaching instead.
My soul, there is a country Far beyond the stars, Where stands a winged sentry All skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles And One, born in a manger Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend And, O my soul, awake! Did in pure love descend To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither, There grows the flow’r of Peace, The Rose that cannot wither, Thy fortress and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges, For none can thee secure But One who never changes, Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
Henry Vaughan (1622-1695)
I know my soul hath power to know all things, Yet she is blind and ignorant in all: I know I’m one of Nature’s little kings, Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.
I know my life’s a pain and but a span; I know my sense is mock’d in ev’rything; And, to conclude, I know myself a Man, Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.
John Davies (1569-1626)
Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore. Never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more, Than my wearied spite now longs to fly out of my troubled breast: O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Ever blooming are the joys of Heaven’s high Paradise. Cold age deafs not there our ears nor vapour dims our eyes: Glory there the sun outshines whose beams the blessed only see: O come quickly, glorious Lord, and raise my sprite to thee!
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
There is an old belief, That on some solemn shore, Beyond the sphere of grief Dear friends shall meet once more. Beyond the sphere of Time and Sin And Fate’s control, Serene in changeless prime Of body and of soul. That creed I fain would keep That hope I’ll ne’er forgo, Eternal be the sleep, If not to waken so.
John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854)
At the round earth’s imagined corners blow Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise From death, you numberless infinities Of souls and to your scattered bodies go! All whom the flood did, and fire shall overthrow, All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies, Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and who whose eyes Shall behold God and never taste death’s woe; But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space, For, if above all these my sins abound, ‘Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace When we are there. Here on this lowly ground, Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good As if Thou’dst sealed my pardon with Thy blood.
John Donne (1572-1631)
Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days, That I may be certified how long I have to live. Thou has made my days as it were a span long; And mine age is as nothing in respect of Thee, And verily, ev’ry man living is altogether vanity, For man walketh in a vain shadow And disquieteth himself in vain, He heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in Thee. Deliver me from all mine offences And make me not a rebuke to the foolish. I became dumb and opened not my mouth For it was Thy doing. Take Thy plague away from me, I am even consumed by means of Thy heavy hand. When Thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin Thou makest his beauty to consume away Like as it were a moth fretting a garment; Ev’ry man therefore is but vanity. Hear my pray’r, O Lord And with Thine ears consider my calling, Hold not Thy peace at my tears! For I am a stranger with Thee and a sojourner As all my fathers were. O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence And be no more seen.
Bel Canto, released in the US on 14 September, is about a famous American soprano, played by Julianne Moore and sung by Renée Fleming. While performing for a wealthy industrialist at his home in South America, she and the private concert audience become trapped in a hostage situation by rebel forces.
Your soundtrack is a real melting pot of cultures and musical styles. How did you go about capturing the Latin American flavour?
The process began when I found an instrument called a timple, which I had never heard of before. It’s a two-foot long guitar strung with classical guitar strings, and is popular in many Latin American countries but it’s not a signature of one particular place. When I found that instrument it helped me establish the palette.
It was the perfect instrument to cut through the score with strength but it was also fragile. It linked well with Carmen, the character that most stood out for me. She is one of the terrorists and is holding a machine gun, but is so young she barely seems to know what she’s doing.
How did you blend the sound of the timple with traditional western instruments?
The orchestral playing is representative of the elite European tradition. When it is accented with the timple and the Latin American inflections it shows the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, one of the main themes of this film.
I used a classical guitar in the soundtrack as well – the playing is very refined – and I decided to play the timple myself. I had never played one before, but it has such personality and I had a really good energy with it. I recorded it very quickly, so it was very raw, which worked in perfect stark contrast with the classical guitar.
I also used electronic music to indicate the surveillance going on in the film: everyone in the house is under surveillance the whole time. You forget that as you watch it, because you get swept up in the romance, but really the film is about love and art set against a hostage situation.
Were you involved in the recording process with soprano Renée Fleming?
Yes, it was such an educational process for me. We brought in producers and specialists who have been involved in many of Renée’s albums. They made sure that the techniques were used in recording were seen through to the end in filming. Her instrument needed its own sort of crew! It’s a very specific sound that they all know and understand.
When you record an opera singer at full voice you have to have the microphone far away, but their technique was different – the microphones were close and there were several of them. Whenever Renée’s head and body moved, it still recorded the voice at the best quality possible. Opera singers are like athletes: they use their whole body.
How did you collaborate with the production team?
In every film, no matter who the director is, there’s always a sense of trepidation. You have to remember that you’re coming in at the very end of the process, and you have the potential to change the film completely. When you have a film that is about music, you have to be even more considerate about what you’re bringing to the project. If there’s too much music it can seem heavy-handed.
Working with Paul Weitz is great. He loves music, whether he’s a musician or not. He was also one of the creators of Mozart in the Jungle, which I worked on as well. I really liked was that Paul and I were able to keep focused on the narratives: we were constantly asking ourselves what we were wanting to say. I ask myself what’s missing and what music is able to add. If the film’s already saying it, you don’t need music.
What was your involvement with Mozart in the Jungle?
I was commissioned to write several original pieces for the show over several episodes, but I was also asked to create music that is part of the script, like when a character goes into a shop and picks an instrument off the wall and plays it.
Writing the original pieces was really fun because they were supposed to be modern – they weren’t supposed to emulate a certain period in history. It’s now, it’s in New York City – I really identified with it. Music-wise, it was right up my alley.
Bel Canto is released in the US on Friday 14 September
Pablo Casals revolutionised the cello as a solo instrument. In Fritz Kreisler’s words, ‘the greatest musician ever to draw bow’, he played for Queen Victoria at 22 and the American president John F Kennedy in his eighties. His most significant legacy, aside from the cellists he inspired, was the rediscovery of the Solo Suites of JS Bach, previously dismissed as technical exercises.
Casals was driven by passionate political and moral convictions, which led to his voluntary exile from his beloved Catalonia from the Spanish Civil War until the end of his life. For 30 years he effectively silenced his instrument in protest against the West’s complicity in Facism. In the 1949 founded a festival in Prades where many legendary recordings were made.
Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942)
A cellist of spectacular virtuosity and artistry, whose technical agility in the high registers led him to be named the ‘Wienawski of the cello’, and of whom Toscanini said ‘there is no one after him.’Taught by Julius Klengel, he was an influential teacher at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik until he was dismissed by the Nazis in 1933 for being a Jew.
Feuermann settled in America in 1937 and was immediately recognised as an outstanding soloist, and formed a fruitful partnership with violinist Jascha Heifetz and pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Their plans to record the complete piano trio repertoire were cut short by his early death from an infection after a minor operation.
Born in Russia, Piatigorsky trained at the Moscow Conservatory and was principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler. When Richard Strauss heard him perform, he said, ‘I have finally heard my Don Quixote as I thought him to be.’
He made his American debut to great acclaim in 1929 and remained, achieving a rare celebrity, through his brilliance, droll character and his association with Heifetz (he eventually stepped in as the violinist’s cellist of choice several years after Feuermann died, and they recorded extensively together). A virile performer, there was always a powerful core to his sound. William Walton dedicated his Cello Concerto to him.
Pierre Fournier (1906-1986)
A player of Apollonian calm and control, Fournier overcame childhood polio to enjoy a glittering career for over half a century. His style was nobly elegant and refined where Rostropovich’s was muscular and extrovert.
He formed a highly successful trio with violinist Henryk Szeryng and pianist Wilhelm Kempff, who excelled in Beethoven, and his vast recorded output has stood the test of time. His reputation was damaged during the Second World War when he agreed to perform in occupied Paris.
Rostropovich will always be remembered as the inspiration for the great cello masterworks in the second half of the 20th century. Close friendships with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Britten gave rise to the former’s two striking Cello Concertos, Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante (click play on the audio player below to hear a clip) and Sonata, Britten’s stormy Cello Symphony and the deeply personal three Solo Suites.
‘Slava’s’ legacy is astonishing: he premiered nearly 200 works in his lifetime, many commissioned by or written for him, and raised the cellistic bar with his powerful, virtuosic technique.
Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987)
An iconic cellist for the British, du Pré inspired a generation with her dazzling performances, until her career was cruelly cut short by multiple sclerosis when she was in her late twenties. Her heart-on-sleeve recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto achieved legendary status, and epitomised the rapturously expressive nature of her playing style.
We have Christopher Nupen to thank for capturing her spirited, humorous character on film playing the great chamber works of Schubert and Beethoven with pianist Daniel Barenboim, violinists Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and, then on the double bass, Zubin Mehta.
BBC Radio 3 announced its plans for the autumn season this week, with a pan-BBC season exploring the most significant musical moments of the last 100 years taking centre stage. Our Classical Century will be led by a series on BBC Four, with accompanying programming on Radio 3 taking place throughout the year, culminating at the First Night of the Proms in 2019.
Guests include actors Stephen Mangan, Graham Fellows and Lenny Henry, novelist Jessie Burton and conductor Sakari Oramo.
From 4 October, Radio 3 will launch a permanent monthly Slow Radio programme, with locations including Durham Cathedral and a zoo.
The Remembrance Weekend on 10 and 11 November will feature ‘sonic memorials’: sounds taken from battlefields across the world, aired every hour on the hour. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s pacifist opera The Silver Tassie will also be broadcast live from the Barbican in London. Set during the First World War, the opera follows the narrative of a young Irish football fan returning home from war in a wheelchair.
From 15-17 February 2019, the station will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Berlioz's death, featuring performances of his key works and lesser-known pieces, as well as works by composers who influenced his writing.
Alan Davey, controller of BBC Radio 3, announced at the End of the Road Festival last weekend that Late Junction will be launching its own dedicated festival in 2019. The two evening-long festival will be held at a new venue in East London, and will showcase a broad range of music: classical, electronic, jazz and world.
A second season of Radio 3’s programme and podcast Classical Fix has been confirmed, with upcoming guests including writers and journalists Dolly Alderton and Elizabeth Day. The programme is hosted by Clemency Burton-Hill, who creates a personalised playlist for her guests, who then join her to discuss their impressions and opinions of their new musical discoveries.
As usual, the station is hosting its annual BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition. Applicants are asked to write a choral score for SATB choir to the words of a poem by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The winner will be announced and their song performed live on Friday 21 December, and played on Radio 3 throughout the Christmas period. The judging panel includes composer Bob Chilcott and Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir.
Since the BBC Proms started in 1895, every season has concluded with a celebration of the past few weeks of music making in the famous Last Night. Although the patriotism and flag-waving that we associate with the Last Night these days may be far from Henry Wood’s memories of the first final concert, the Prom has always been a musical extravaganza. Here are six Last Nights that stand out in the Proms’ 120-year history.
1895: the first Last Night
The very first Last Night of the Proms was held on Saturday 5 October 1895 in the Queen’s Hall, London. Featuring music by 27 different composers from Hubert Parry and Arthur Sullivan to Richard Wagner and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the programme was a truly multi-national affair. Although the Prom lacked some of the pomp and circumstance we now associate with it, it certainly had a light-hearted atmosphere, finishing with Hermann Louis Koenig’s Post Horn Galop before the English National Anthem.
1941: wartime resourcefulness
During the Second World War, the Queen’s Hall was detroyed in an intense air raid. Very little remained, but the bust of Sir Henry Wood did survive and was rescued from the ruins. The Proms were moved to the Royal Albert Hall, where Sir Henry too would reside each season. The Last Night on 23 August 1941 was scheduled to start at the earlier time of 6pm to allow patrons to get home before the war-time black-out. This was also the first year to include the closing speech from the conductor.
1953: Last Night traditions take hold
The Last Night of the Proms on 19 September 1953 was the first to feature Parry’s setting of William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, now a regular fixture. By this time the concert had started to resemble the we know now. The prom also included Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major (‘Land of Hope and Glory’) and Thomas Arne’s Rule, Britannia!
1967: Malcolm Sargent says farewell
Malcolm Sargent was chief conductor of the Proms from 1948 until 1967, the year in which he fell too ill to conduct. However, he still made it onto the podium to make what would be his final Last Night speech, an appearance that met a huge round of applause. He died seventeen days later on 3 October.
2001: a more subdued affair
In 2001, the Last Night took place on 15 September, just four days after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. A more subdued night than usual, respect was paid to the US with a moving performance of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and a rendition of the The Star Spangled Banner. The audience wore black arm bands and the sea of red, white and blue included the stars and stripes of the US flag.
2013: a female conductor takes to the podium
History was made at the 2013 Last Night of the Proms when Marin Alsop became the first woman to conduct the iconic concert. During the Last Night speech, Alsop took the opportunity to highlight the need for equality within classical music and give some inspiring words to young people and aspiring women conductors. In a particularly poignant moment she said: 'I am pretty schocked that it's 2013 and there can still be firsts for women.' She concluded: ‘I want to say to the young women out there, and as I say to all young people out there, believe in yourselves, follow your passion and never give up because you will create a future filled with possibility.'
Ah, the viola. An unjustly treated instrument, if ever there was one. It is thought that jokes about viola players actually originate from the 18th century, when viola parts were often rather pedestrian, and as a result talented musicians were more enticed by other instruments, leaving weaker players to take on the viola. Sadly, those jokes still kick around today.
However, there are many wonderful, albeit often overlooked, viola works worth listening to. We have compiled a playlist of some of our favourites, available here on Apple Music and here on Spotify.
Walton Viola Concerto
Walton’s terrific concerto was written in 1929 for Lionel Tertis – as many viola works were at the time – though he promptly pooh-poohed it, handing premiere duties over to composer and fellow viola player Paul Hindemith (see below). It’s hard to understand Tertis’s complaint that it was too ‘modernist’, as the work is overtly lyrical and mischievous, with moments of breathtaking beauty.
No-one who has ever heard the virtuosic tour de force that is Hindemith’s Second Viola Sonata would ever dare to let a dismissive viola joke pass through their lips ever again. Composed in 1922, it consists of five movements set out in a roughly symmetrical pattern, with the dark and sinuous Sehr langsam at its very heart. It is either side of that third movement that the player really lets fly, however, in the short but fast-and-furious Sehr frisch und straff and Rasendes Zeitmass: Wild: Tonschönheit ist Nebensache movements. There is no piano to share this thrilling ride – the work is for viola alone.
Recommended recording: Nobuko Imai
Schumann Märchenbilder, Op. 113
These four gorgeous ‘fairy-tale pictures’ for viola and piano date from 1851, near the end of Schumann’s life. He left no clues in the score as to which particular stories he had in mind, but each piece is a perfectly fashioned vignette. I particularly love the headlong rush of the third movement and the gorgeous Lullaby that draws the set to a gentle close.
Recommended recording: Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Hartmut Höll (piano)
Telemann Viola Concerto in G
Written c1716-21, Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G has remained popular in the instrument’s repertoire, particularly for its high-spirited Allegro movement. It may even be the first viola concerto ever written. The other movements are also impressive, from the solemn Largo opener – which allows the violist to express the instrument’s warm, mellow tone – to the Presto finale which fizzes with energy.
Recommended recording: Simon Streatfield (viola), Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Bax Viola Sonata
Another piece dedicated to violist Lionel Tertis, Bax’s viola sonata was composed in late 1921 and premiered by Tertis and Bax together. With a wild, restless scherzo sandwiched between two more moderate movements, the piece is fiery and expressive. What most appeals to me about this work is the exploration of the beefy lower range of the viola, one of the finest elements of the instrument.
Recommended recording: Doris Lederer (viola), Jane Coop (piano)
What's on at the Proms tonight?
Prom 71, Wednesday 5 September, 7.30pm
Berlioz Overture 'Le corsaire' La mort de Cléopâtre The Trojans - Royal Hunt and Storm The Trojans - Dido's Death Scene Harold in Italy
Antoine Tamestit (viola) Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner