Bartók | Dvořák

23 February 2018, 7 p.m., Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic – European Art Centre in Białystok

Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, a late masterpiece of the Hungarian composer, was commissioned in 1943 by the Koussevitzky Foundation. The premiere took place on the 1st of December 1944 with the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by S. Kusewicki and turned out to be a spectacular success. However, it came too late and did not change the composer’s difficult situation as a war-time immigrant in the US – less than a year later, Bartók died in poverty and obscurity. Concerto for Orchestra would turn out to be one of his last works, as well as one of the most popular. The composer softened his musical language, leaning towards a symmetrical, classical form and greater sonic euphony, while retaining most of the characteristics of his earlier style, with subtle yet clear references to folklore, a supremacy of the rhythmic element and colourful instrumentation. The name “concerto” refers here to an element of solo, virtuoso concert playing, but entrusted not to one instrument by many, as well as groups of them.
Antonín Dvořák is remembered primarily as a composer of symphonies – they are repeated most often in concert repertoires, although his chamber music, songs and (rarely performed) operas are also appreciated. In his legacy, we can find only three completed solo concertos, the most popular of which is the cello concerto from the late period of his work (1895), enthusiastically received at the time of the premiere and still constituting a “canonical” position in the repertoire for this instrument. The other two remain slightly in its shadow – one for the piano (1876) and for violin (1879). The Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 is one of the numerous works from the 19th century inspired by the talent of the great violinist Joseph Joachim, to whom countless works were dedicated, who was a friend of Johannes Brahms, and a teacher and protector to many young talents. Dvořák wrote the concerto with Joachim in mind, but the famous violinist frankly (although in a friendly tone) expressed his scepticism about certain formal and textural solutions, which he believed were too far removed from the “traditional” patterns, to which he remained faithful. He offered the Bohemian composer a number of suggestions, but he did not make the work part of his repertoire. In the end, the slightly delayed premiere was performed in 1883 in Prague by František Ondříček. The impressive piece, emanating high-proof virtuosity and full of romantic expression gained the audience’s recognition. Today, it is heard less often than the Cello Concerto in B minor, so it is all the more worthwhile to take the opportunity to get acquainted with this beautiful work, especially in the interpretation by Piotr Pławner, one of the most outstanding Polish violinists of his generation, winner of the First Prize of the 10th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition (ex aequo with Bartłomiej Nizioł) in 1991.
An interesting and beautiful part of the programme, conducted by Maestro Michail Jurowski, the first guest conductor of the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra, will be Dvořák’s Carnival Overture from 1891, which is the second (and most famous) link in the overture trilogy Nature, Life and Love. The impressive work, full of great energy, is a colourful, dazzling mosaic of dance motifs in the Slavic spirit interwoven with episodes of nostalgic reflection.

Piotr Pławner | violin
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
Michail Jurowski | conductor

Antonín Dvořák Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Antonín Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53
Béla Bartók Concerto for Orchestra

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