Amalia Hall splendidly embodies Virtuoso Violin with Orchestra Wellington

Orchestra Wellington presents:
Virtuoso Violin

Frédéric Chopin Polonaise Op. 40 No.1 “Militaire”
Nicoló Paganini Violin Concerto No. 2 “La Campanella”
Franz Liszt Mazeppa
Franz Liszt Les Prêludes

Amalia Hall (violin)
Marc Taddei (conductor)
Orchestra Wellington

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 12 June, 2021

Marc Taddei introduced the concert with a few words of explanation. This programme reflected a significant change in music history, the dawn of a new era, the shift from concerts performed in salons in aristocratic palaces to concerts performed by widely celebrated virtuosos in concert halls to large audiences. It also reflected the changes in instruments, violins with longer necks and strings and pianos with stronger frames that could produce sounds that could fill the larger venues. It was about the rise of the artist as a hero, a celebrity, not a mere servant of some nobleman, like Haydn, who was in the house of Eszterházy, or Mozart, in the employ of the Archbishop of Salzburg. This change called for a large orchestra with a full complement of brass, winds and percussion. It is the story of the rise of the virtuoso. It was innovative and interesting programming, as we are now used to from Mark Taddei.

Frédéric Chopin Polonaise Op. 40 No.1 “Militaire”

This was an orchestral arrangement by Glazunov of one of Chopin’s most popular works. It was part of a suite of arrangements of four pieces he called Chopiniana, written 1892-93. The work was subsequently choreographed by Mikhail Fokine 1907 and was taken to Paris under the umbrella of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe season in 1909 and was renamed “Les Sylphides”. I am sure that as ballet music it works well, but the subtlety of Chopin, which was one of his hallmarks as a composer, was inevitably lost. As a work for a large orchestra it is very different from the original piano version, with too much brass, too much bombast. The noted pianist, Anton Rubinstein described this piece as the symbol of Polish glory. Whatever Chopin intended, Glazunov turned the orchestral version into something triumphal.

Nicoló Paganini Violin Concerto No. 2 “La Campanella”

Amalia Hall (soloist)

Hearing the Paganini Concerto was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In many years of concert going I don’t recall ever hearing it played live. It is undoubtedly a showy vehicle for a violin virtuoso without the substance of the great concertos of the repertoire, but it was written in a different age with different expectations. Above all, it was written by Paganini, the first international celebrity, a star, to show off his amazing skills as a violinist, and perhaps to put his rivals, other great violinists of his age, in their places. This concerto was born in the age of Rossini that soon yielded to more profound composers, Weber, Wagner, and Verdi. The work starts with an orchestral tutti which announces the main themes to follow, builds up an expectation and then lets the soloist take over like a great tenor with his signature aria. It is very vocal writing, with the custom of the earlier generation of singers and violinists to elaborate and ornament the melodies. Amalia Hall asserted her mastery from the very moment of her entry. Her fiddle sang with a penetrating beautiful tone, the melodic line flowed gracefully. She sailed over the great technical challenges that Paganini placed in the concerto to discourage the faint-hearted. Her phrasing was beautiful, clear, her tone dominating, but singing. Her cadenza established that she was a master of her instrument.

The second movement started with the horns, the hunter lurking off stage, birds chirping until the violin took over with an ever so beautiful melody, like a tenor coming in, singing a soulful serenade. Amalia Hall played this with freedom, as if playing this aria for every individual member of her large audience. And then La Campanalla, like a sudden burst of light, the piece de resistance that we were waiting for, joyful, playful, such an irresistible captivating tune that Liszt transcribed it and embellished it for the piano, one of his most popular studies. Paganini used this theme to demonstrate all the tricks that he could show off on the violin, double stops, harmonics, spiccatos, left hand pizzicatos. It is a great challenge for the soloist, and a credit to Amalia Hall that she took it all in her stride. The audience responded at the end of each movement by the now unusual, but very appropriate applause, and a tumultuous ovation followed at the end of the concerto. Amalia Hall rewarded the audience with a solo for violin, Orange Blossom, an American barn music theme, all great fun.

Franz Liszt:  Mazeppa
                         Les Prêludes

These two symphonic poems presented huge challenges for the orchestra. Tone poems were an innovation in Liszt’s time. They are, unlike symphonic movements, not constrained by traditional musical forms. They set out to evoke in the minds of listeners specific scenes, moods, images, stories.

Mazeppa was inspired by Victor Hugo’s poem of the story of Ivan Mazeppa, who seduced a Polish noblewoman. As punishment he was tied naked to a wild horse that carted him to Ukraine. There he was released by the Cossacks, who made him a hetman, a leader. Strings suggest a wild gallop, which is transformed and distorted with six strokes of the timpani that evoke the fall of the rider. Strings, horns and bassoon express astonishment at the injured man who is then raised, as depicted by the Allegro Marziale on the trumpets. The constantly recurring motif announced by the massed brass suggests a spirit not easily overcome. The final theme signifies the return of the hero and his end in glory.

Les Prêludes is Liszt’s interpretation of Lamartine’s poem, though it was originally conceived as an overture to settings of four poems by Joseph Autran for choruses. It is the earliest example of an orchestral work that was performed as a “symphonic poem”. The purists, believing in absolute music, found music that tried to describe anything other than music a contradiction in terms. Yet it became the most popular of Liszt’s thirteen symphonic poems. It uses a large orchestra and evokes a wide range of sounds. It is a challenge to blend these themes and sounds for an orchestra. Orchestra Wellington, with its part-time structure may not always rise to the height of the great orchestras that one can hear on recordings, but it was a brave attempt by them to showcase these key works in the development of romanticism in music.

It was a fine, enjoyable concert. Well done Orchestra Wellington!




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