Saturday 20th January 2024, 7.15pm
Prince Igor Overture, Alexander Borodin
A Somerset Rhapsody, Gustav Holst
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Soloist: Finn Mannion
Symphony No.1 in D minor, Sergei Rachmaninov
The IWSO is delighted to welcome back the talented young conductor James Thomas. His concert last year, which featured Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony, was incredibly well-received and the orchestra had no hesitation in offering an invitation to James to conduct again this season.
This concert begins with the overture to Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Borodin began work on the opera in 1869 and he worked on it for the rest of his life. His work was hampered in two fronts, firstly his own self-critical personality and his demanding position as Professor of Chemistry at St. Petersburg Medical Academy. His friend, composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, assisted him in orchestrating the Polovtsian Dances a decade later but on his death in 1887, Borodin left significant parts of the opera in rough sketch form only. The overture is largely constructed by Alexander Glazunov, who had to rely on his memory of hearing Borodin playing it on the piano, as well as interpreting the rough sketches discovered in his papers.
Composed in 1906, Gustav Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody is inspired by a collection of three English folk songs from rural Somerset. The first is ‘It’s A Rosebud in June’ also known as the sheep-shearing song! The second is the march-like ‘High Germany’ and the work ends with ‘The Lover’s Farewell’. A Somerset Rhapsody is one Holst’s most popular works and a fitting tribute to the composer whose 150th Anniversary of his birth is celebrated in 2024.
Although it is impossible to infer it from the music, Tchaikovsky wrote his Variations on a Rococo Theme in deep depression. His opera Vakula the Smith had been a failure, a bungled performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Paris opera and a scathing review of the same from Vienna came in a two-week period in December 1876. Fortunately Tchaikovsky escaped depression through intense work. He composed this piece for a colleague, eminent young German cellist Willhelm Fitzenhagen, who heavily edited the work. This is not unusual, especially if the composer did not play the instrument. The word rococo is mostly associated with the decorative arts of the mid-18th Century although the rococo theme is an original melody and not one taken from this period.
Rachmaninov composed his Symphony No.1 in D minor in 1895, at the tender age of 22. It received its first performance in March 1897 conducted by Alexander Glazunov. It was not well received. Rachmaninov blamed Glazunov for a lacklustre approach by simply beating time rather than finding the music within, although some contemporary reports suggest that Glazunov was inebriated. Rachmaninov never destroyed the score but did leave it behind when he departed Russia to settle in the West and, eventually, it was given up as lost. After the composer’s death, a two-piano transcription of the work surfaced in Moscow, followed by the discovery of a set of orchestral parts at the conservatory at St. Petersburg a few months later. In March 1945 the symphony was performed in Moscow – the first time it had been heard since its 1897 première.