Schubert | Mahler

10 May 2019, 7 p.m.
The Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio

Joanna Klisowska | soprano
Jerzy Semkow Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
Agnieszka Duczmal | conductor

Franz Schubert – Symphony in B Minor Unfinished D 759
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No 4 in G Major (chamber version)

Schubert’s symphonies share the same Viennese roots with the oeuvre of the three great Classics. The early classicising symphonies Nos 1 to 6 were written at one-year intervals between 1813 and 1818, which was followed by a meaningful hiatus in Schubert’s symphonic writing. His next work, No 7 by chronology, was the Symphony in B Minor ‘Unfinished’ of 1822, which brought with itself a ‘Romantic breakthrough’ – a transition towards freer, lyrical expression with clear song features. Traditionally, this piece is referred to as his eight symphony as it was not discovered until close to four decades after Schubert’s death when Symphony in C Major would still be regarded as No 7. A popular Romantic legend also had it that the ‘Unfinished’ must have been his final piece, and that death had prevented him from completing the work. In fact, we do not know why Schubert abandoned the idea to write more movements in order to complement the initial two; most likely, however, his decision was motivated by artistic reasons rather than a stroke of fate. Nevertheless, both the Romantic legend and the beauty of this touching work are still what makes it one of the most often performed symphonies of its time.

Gustav Mahler, who also spent most of his lifetime in Vienna, represents the other pole of Romantic symphonic writing: its final phase, which opened the musical perspective of the twentieth century. He also had a high regard for a song – he considered himself a continuator of the Schubertian tradition and introduced a vocal element to his symphonies: a solo voice (as in the Fourth) or choral parts (in the Second, Third and in the monumental Eight). He would also often use folk lyrics (or stylised as such) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an anthology assembled in the early nineteenth century by A. von Arnim and C. Brentano. This also the case with Symphony No 4 in G Major, where a charming song is sung by a soprano, expressing childish excitement about the prospects of ‘heavenly life’. This part will be performed by Joanna Klisowska, a coloratura soprano applauded on stages and bandstands worldwide in a very versatile repertoire. Among Mahler’s symphonies, this one is distinguished by its relatively small cast and quite ‘classical’ structure – it has also proved suitable for chamber-music arrangements, such those by Erwin Stein of 1921 and by Klaus Simon of 2007 (the latter will be performed during this concert). The concert will be conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal, a highly esteemed conductor and very successful art director of the Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra, who has also performed as a guest conductor with many other important orchestras both in Poland and abroad.

By Piotr Maculewicz