One of Beethoven’s most popular symphonies, introduced by two major figures of the Russian 20th century—forming a programme in vivid colour for orchestra and soloist alike.
Imbued with folk jubilation but also unspeakably melancholy, Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (1934), originally composed for quartet at the request of Jewish musicians living as refugees in America, is one of the earliest and most beautiful examples of artistic stylization in klezmer music.
This popular music vein is echoed in Shostakovich’s more sombre Concerto (1959), the four movements of which are built around a musical cryptogram of the composer’s name. The cello’s full expressive range is showcased in this passionate work that is not without sarcasm, including distorted echoes of Suleiko, a favourite song of Stalin’s.
The programme concludes with Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony (1908), a titan among ‘popular’ works in both senses of the word. It ventures into the realm of descriptive music, with birdsong, the murmur of a stream and the rustling of leaves rendered by trills, and thunderclaps by the timpani, bringing to life a vibrant soundscape.