Haydn is considered the first great master of Viennese Classicism as well as the father of the symphony. He is the first composer to insert a minuet in between the movements of the symphony thereby establishing the classical four-movement structure of the genre (allegro – slow movement – minuet – rondo like allegro). In his monumental life work the official count of symphonies is 104, with several of them written in G major – of which Op. 88 will be performed to our kind audience tonight. After having written the six Parisian symphonies, Haydn completed this piece in 1787, dedicating it to the orchestra of Eszterháza. Symphony No. 88 is one of Haydn’s most well-known, however, as opposed to many other popular symphonies, it doesn’t have a descriptive byname similar to that of the “Drum Roll” or “Farewell” symphonies.
The four-movement work starts by an Allegro prepared by a short Adagio, then continues by the slow Largo movement with a lyrical tone, followed by a minuet movement with an Allegretto tempo marking an dsuggestive of a stomp dance, and finally, a finale written in a sonata-rondo format closes the symphony.
Our concert starts by Four Last Songs by Strauss. The title of the cycle was not given by the composer. Also, it isn’t quite certain that the ageing artist actually wished to incorporate his songs written at 84 years-old into a cycle. Somewhat regaining his strength after many bitter disappointments, the old master found delight in composing one song after the other. The first to be completed was “In Abendrot” (At Sunset), based on the poem by Joseph von Eichendorff, then came “Frühling” (Spring) and “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep), inspired by Nobel Prize laureate Hermann Hesse’s poetry, and the last score to be finished by the author was that of “September”. Eventually, in the performing practice the order has been changed: the reason for the reordering being the poetic question at the close of “In Abendrot” after which any kind of continuation would feel quite awkward. The only party worthy of replying to the words of the singer is the orchestra, in brief, from afar, from high above, meekly and in a calming manner. The theme of death is present in the other three parts as well, albeit the words of the other three poems do not carry it. Even the image of spring makes old Strauss think of passing away. For the composer who has lived through so much, the idea of death does not evoke the last judgement or suffering to be followed by glory as a dramatic contrast. He has already distanced himself from these romantic ideas. Yet, the music of death ushering in peace and release is romantic through and through. Strauss still speaks the musical vernacular of his young age, only without any extremes or pretentiousness; with the wisdom of old age. The music of the last four songs is of pastel shades, often in high registers, floating subtly.
In the second half of the concert we can hear the young Mihály Berecz as the soloist of Beethoven’s piano concerto in G major. Berecz made his debut in 2013 at the age of 16 by playing the solo part in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major in Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, conducted by Zoltán Kocsis. Mihály Berecz has been playing as guest pianist in many prestigious institutions, among which his German debut in the Berlin Konzerthaus (2013) playing Hungarian Fantasy by Liszt and his other concert in Berlin, at the Philharmonie playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C minor (2017) should be mentioned. In 2018 he won first prize at the 2nd Manhattan International Music Competition and in the same year he won the Harriet Cohen Award of the London Royal Academy of Music.