Musical journeys to Italy and Egypt

Have you been to a concert somewhere in the world recently? Share your thoughts with us about the performance, the more details the better!

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Musical journeys to Italy and Egypt

Post by Ricordanza » Tue May 01, 2018 9:23 pm

When composers travel, they often record their impressions in the language they know best—musical composition. On Saturday evening, April 28, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s
Principal Guest Conductor, Stéphane Denève, led an appealing program of four works inspired by two locales, Italy and Egypt.

The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer, Hector Berlioz, includes music from his opera, Benvenuto Cellini, and the piece is intended as an alternate overture to that opera. Of course, consistent with the title of the work, it concludes with a fast-paced dance. But a highlight for me was the slow and warm middle section with a soulful English horn solo. As we’ve come to expect from the orchestra’s principal players, this solo was gorgeously rendered by Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia.

Like many concertos, Camille Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5 is in three movements. But to this listener, it seems like three different pieces, since the movements have entirely different characters. The first movement is a flowing and passionate tone poem for piano and orchestra, rather Germanic in its approach. The third movement is unmistakably French, a bright and virtuosic romp in a major key.

But it’s the extraordinary middle movement which gives the concerto its nickname, “The Egyptian.” This movement blends sensuality, exotic flavor, and beautiful melody for a piece of music that is unique in the piano concerto literature. One of those melodies, by the composer’s own description, is based on a Nubian love song he heard sung by sailors on the Nile.

Piano soloist Nicholas Angelich was just the right performer for this work. Perhaps I should say that he was just the right performer for all three of these works, as his playing captured the essence of these distinct and disparate movements. He offered a melancholy but lovely Chopin waltz as an encore.

Denève has championed the work of the contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson. For this program, he offered a work entitled, E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare (And the river shimmers in the valley), which the composer describes as a tribute to the beautiful landscapes of Italy. The musical language is highly accessible, no more challenging than that offered by composers in the beginning of the 20th Century. Connesson certainly knows how to bring out orchestral color, and I appreciate Denève’s enthusiasm for this composer: at the conclusion of the piece, he held the score aloft and pointed to it, noting that the applause should be directed to the piece. But I found myself wanting a little more of a challenge, something more gripping than the rather bland impression left by this piece.

The final work on the program also depicts Italian scenes, but Ottorino Respighi did not have to travel to find inspiration for The Pines of Rome. This is one of the best known works of this Italian composer, and it’s an orchestral showpiece especially identified with the Philadelphia Orchestra since its very first performance by the orchestra, in 1926, led by the composer himself. Previous music directors, Eugene Ormandy and Riccardo Muti, recorded the work and frequently performed it. It’s no wonder the piece is an ever-popular favorite, given its rich orchestration and vivid colors. While my favorite section was the solemn and mysterious “Pine Trees near a Catacomb,” there is no denying the thrill and sonic brilliance of the finale, “The Pine Trees of the Appian Way.”

After the concert, it was back to the streets of Philadelphia. Not as exciting or exotic as the places depicted in this concert, but concertgoers like myself are not unhappy, because this is the locale of our treasure, the great Philadelphia Orchestra.

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Re: Musical journeys to Italy and Egypt

Post by Lance » Mon May 07, 2018 12:59 am

Of course, you are correct about your "treasure," the Philadelphia Orchestra. I guess we have Stokowski to thank for that, eh? And that "Egyptian" Concerto is one of my absolute favourites as piano concertos go. I would have loved to have been at this concert.
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]


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Re: Musical journeys to Italy and Egypt

Post by Ricordanza » Tue May 08, 2018 5:28 am

Lance wrote:
Mon May 07, 2018 12:59 am
I guess we have Stokowski to thank for that, eh?
Certainly, Stokowski put the Philadelphia Orchestra on the map. But many thought the Philadelphians had slipped since the days of Ormandy and Muti. Today, the orchestra's reputation is on the rise again, and credit for that should go primarily to music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

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