Recent Repertoire

Here are some of the compositions that we have recently performed. We hope that you were able to join us to hear some great music.

Franz Schubert: Symphony in C Major [Grand Duo]

Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder 1875Schubert’s Symphony in C Major was originally written as a Sonata in C Major for piano four-hands, D. 812, and remains one of Schubert’s most important works for two pianists. Schubert wrote this work in the spring of 1824 while at Zseliz on the Esterházy estate, probably for the two countesses he was tutoring at the time. The sonata was published after Schubert’s death, in 1837, with the title ‘Grand Duo,’ though there is no evidence that this title in any way came from Schubert.

Schubert’s Symphony in C Major is a mature and characteristic work on the largest scale. The structures of the movements closely resemble those of other Schubert symphonies, and some passages of the Grand Duo seem aimed to reproduce orchestral effects (although both of these observations might apply to some of Schubert’s solo piano sonatas). The work is in four movements: a sonata-form Allegro, a slow-movement Andante, a lively enough Scherzo and a final Allegro vivace that again exhibits Schubert’s capacity for heavenly length.

Schumann and Brahms seemed to think that Schubert’s Grand Duo was either an arrangement of a symphony Schubert had already written or the first version of a work that Schubert intended to score later as a symphony. It was undoubtedly the enthusiasm of Schumann and Brahms that inspired Joseph Joachim, a great violinist for whom Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto, Op. 77, to orchestrate the Grand Duo in 1855. Stylistic accuracy was not Joachim’s main concern, however, and the orchestral sound is more that of a Brahms symphony.

Robert Schumann: Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 129, in A Minor

Robert Schumann in an 1850 daguerreotypeSchumann’s Cello Concerto was completed in a period of only two weeks, between 10 October and 24 October 1850, shortly after Schumann became the music director at Düsseldorf. The concerto was never performed in Schumann’s lifetime. The premiere was on 9 June 1860, four years after his death, at the Leipzig Conservatory in a concert in honour of the 50th anniversary of Schumann’s birth. The duration of performance is about 25 minutes.

The first movement begins with a very short orchestral introduction followed by the presentations of the main theme by the soloist, which in turn is followed by a short tutti that leads into a lyrical melody. The second movement is a very short lyrical movement in which the soloist occasionally uses double stops. It also features a descending fifth, a gesture used throughout the piece as a signal and homage to his wife, Clara Schumann. Also, the soloist has a duet with the principal cellist, an unusual texture and one that could be interpreted as a conversation between Clara and the composer. The third movement is a lighter, yet resolute rondo. At the end of the movement, there is an accompanied in-tempo cadenza, something unprecedented in Schumann’s time. This cadenza leads into the final coda in which Schumann changes the mode to A major.

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon duodecimi toni à 8

Portrait of Giovanni GabrieliGiovanni Gabrieli was a Venetian composer and organist and one of the most influential musicians of his time. Born in Venice, he was one of five children. Little is known of his early life. He studied with his uncle, the composer Andrea Gabrieli, who was employed at St. Mark’s Basilica from the 1560s until his death in 1585. Giovanni also went to Munich to study with the renowned Orlando de Lassus at the court of Duke Albert V, and he most likely stayed there until about 1579.

By 1584 he had returned to Venice. He became principal organist at St. Mark’s Basilica in 1585 and, following his uncle’s death the following year, he assumed the post of principal composer there as well. San Marco had a long tradition of musical excellence. While Gabrieli’s uncle, Andrea Gabrieli, was recognised as the greatest composer of vocal music in the Venetian San Marco polychoral style, Giovanni Gabrieli was undoubtedly the pre-eminent instrumental composer in Venice and one of the most important and influential composers in all of Europe.

Jean Sibelius: Finlandia, Op. 26

Photo of Jean SibeliusFinlandia is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius which was written in 1899 and revised in 1900.  Originally composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899 in protest against increasing censorship from the Czarist Russian Empire, it was the last of seven works performed to accompany a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history.

In order to circumvent the Russian censorship of the time, Finlandia was often performed under alternative titles, such as Happy Feelings At The Awakening Of Finnish Spring and A Scandinavian Choral March.  Much of the work is taken up by rousing and turbulent music evoking the struggles of the Finnish people. However, toward the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard.  Although frequently cited as a Finnish folk melody, the Finlandia Hymn was essentially a work of Sibelius’ own creation.

JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957):  Finlandia, Op. 26.  Finlandia is a tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius which was written in 1899 and revised in 1900.  Originally composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899 in protest against increasing censorship from the Czarist Russian Empire, it was the last of seven works performed to accompany a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history.

In order to circumvent the Russian censorship of the time, Finlandia was often performed under alternative titles, such as Happy Feelings At The Awakening Of Finnish Spring and A Scandinavian Choral March.  Much of the work is taken up by rousing and turbulent music evoking the struggles of the Finnish people. However, toward the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard.  Although frequently cited as a Finnish folk melody, the Finlandia Hymn was essentially a work of Sibelius’ own creation.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major

Line drawing of Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto was originally written in E major, but is most often performed in E♭ major, which makes the fingering less difficult for modern performers using E♭ and B♭ trumpets. Hummel was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist who bridged the classical and romantic eras. He was born in Pressburg (now Bratislava), Hungary and, like Mozart, was a child prodigy. He even studied with Mozart in Vienna before embarking upon European tours. Unlike Mozart, however, Hummel was more commercially successful, and he succeeded Haydn as Kappelmeister in Prince Esterházy’s court in Eisenstadt.

Like Haydn, Hummel wrote a Trumpet Concerto for the Viennese trumpet virtuoso and inventor of the keyed trumpet, Anton Weidinger. The first performance, by Weidinger on New Year’s Day 1804, commemorated Hummel’s entrance, as Haydn’s successor, into the Esterházy court orchestra. The first movement is in sonata form with an energetic first subject and a more playful second theme. The brief second movement has some attractive solos for the woodwinds, but unfortunately for the strings, is placed in the very difficult key of C minor (seven flats!). The Finale is a cheerful and vigourous rondo with considerable technical demands for the soloist, especially in the trills and flourishes following the central minor section, before the work ends in triumph.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, Op. 67, in C Minor

Painting of Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the most popular and best known compositions in all of classical music, indeed one of the landmarks of Western culture. The symphony’s four-note opening motive: “short-short-short-long,” appears frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll, from films to television.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was premiered on 22 December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Soon thereafter E.T.A. Hoffmann hailed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as “one of the most important works of our time.”

The first movement is dominated by the four-note motive described before. Even when a lyrical second theme appears, the four-note motive remains as accompaniment. During the recapitulation there is an oboe solo in quasi-improvisatory style, and the movement ends with a massive coda. The second movement features a lyrical melody introduced by the violas and cellos followed by a second theme in the winds and violins. Variations of these themes appear, leading to a series of crescendos and a coda to close the movement. In the third movement, a scherzo and trio, a soft arching melody in the cellos and basses is answered by a more plaintive theme in the winds. This sequence is repeated and finally the horns loudly announce the main theme of the movement, another variant on the four-note motive from the first movement. The trio section is in C major and is written in contrapuntal texture. The reprise of the scherzo, soft with pizzicato strings, leads to an extended coda which connects directly to the last movement, a triumphant and exhilarating finale in C major. The finale includes a very long coda, as the main themes are temporally compressed and, toward the end, the tempo is increased to Presto. No less than 29 bars of C major chords, played fortissimo, are needed to ground the extreme tension of this immense work.

Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto, Op. 47, in D Minor

Jean SibeliusThe Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, was written by Jean Sibelius in 1904 and revised in 1905. Thisis the only concerto that Sibelius wrote, although he composed several pieces on a smaller scale, including six humoresques for violin and orchestra.

The first movement is in sonata form, marked Allegro moderato, and opens with a cushion of pianissimo strings pulsating gently. The soloist then enters with a characteristic IV-V-I phrase, in D minor, the notes G-A-D, then continues into development materials. An Allegro molto vivace coda briskly brings the first movement to an end with restatements of past themes. The second movement(Adagio di molto) is very lyrical. The middle section is especially noteworthy, as the solo violin plays ascending broken octaves, accompanied by the flute playing descending notes simultaneously. The third movement, marked Allegro ma non tanto, is widely known among violinists for its formidable technical difficulty and is widely considered one of the greatest concerto movements ever written for the instrument. Sir Donald Tovey described it as a “polonaise for polar bears.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 39, K. 543, in E Flat Major (1788)

MozartMozart’s Symphony No. 39, completed on 26 June 1788, was the first of a set of three final symphonies composed in rapid succession in the summer of 1788. No. 40 was completed 25 July and No. 41, on 10 August. No less an authority than Nikolaus Harnoncourt argues that the three symphonies were composed as a unified work, noting that, among other things, while Symphony No. 39 has a grand introduction in the manner of an overture, it has no coda.

There is nothing in the first movement of the Symphony No. 39 that does not fit the textbook model of classical form. Even the large and slow introductory section is a standard feature of Haydn’s output at the time. The magic here is the way the opening melody of the Allegro is effortlessly spun out of the extended false cadence of the introductory section. The Andante, on the other hand, is a marvel of sustained eloquence, capped by moments of great power and passion that are all the more remarkable in music of such spare, chamber music textures.

The third movement is one of Mozart’s most celebrated minuets, and features a middle trio section based on an actual ländler (Austrian folk dance), rather than an imaginary one. Mozart clearly had the Stadlers, Johann and Anton, in mind when writing the clarinet parts of this movement. The central trio section features a solo for the first clarinet while the second clarinet accompanies with soft arpeggio figures in the chalumeau (low) register of the instrument. The presto finale is basically a monothematic movement. While Mozart’s “second theme” appears to be new, it is essentially just a clever makeover of the first theme.

Howard Fox: Opening Night Overture

Dr. Howard FoxWhile Dr. Fox is a practicing podiatrist, his first and lasting love was music. His father played violin and viola and provided a rich musical environment for him as a child. He studied composition under Earl George at Syracuse University, and although changing his course of study to medicine “for pragmatic reasons,” he continued to compose in his favorite venue, large orchestral works. His music is uncharacteristic of most modern classical music in that its melodic and the harmonic structures are rather basic and established.

It wasn’t until writing for over 50 years that his first orchestral piece received a performance, a tone poem called Scenes in the Greenbelt depicting 5 areas of the Staten Island Greenbelt. The Staten Island Philharmonic performed this in November 2015 under the baton of Maestro Guzman. It was a natural expression of Dr. Fox’s love of the Greenbelt and his involvement with the Greenbelt Conservatory on Staten Island. A documentary film called Woodland Verse: A Glimpse into the Staten Island Greenbelt which made exclusive use of his music.

Dr. Fox was recently honored as 2016 Outstanding Composer by the Staten Island Philharmonic and his brass quintet premiered at their annual gala. He was asked to compose a march for the Staten Island Philharmonic Concert Band which premiered over a series of three outdoor concerts during the July 4th weekend. Dr. Fox lives and practices on Staten Island, is married to Angela, and has two children, Jonathan and Daniel.

Program Notes by the Composer:

When asked to provide an opening piece for this concert, my initial thought was to use something I had already written, but after attending two concerts of the Centre Symphony Orchestra and hearing their capabilities, I decided to write something new and just for them in the form of an overture. With so many talented musicians, I wanted to write something where almost everyone gets a chance to shine at some point, giving opportunities to many soloists. And since this overture would herald the new season for the CSO, I wanted it to say, “something big is coming,” and thus, named it Opening Night Overture. I have dedicated this piece to Maestro Guzman, a man of abundant musical knowledge and the ability to inspire musicians to bring out their best. His invaluable advice and recommendations have taught me more about orchestration than I learned in 4 years at college. For his wealth of knowledge, his willingness to part with it, and for the friendship I have found in him, this music is for Alex.

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 2, Op. 73, in D Major

Johannes BrahmsJOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897): Symphony No. 2, Op. 73, in D Major (1877). Scholars have often speculated that Brahms worked on his first symphony (completed in 1876) for over 20 years because he, like so many 19th-century composers, was intimidated by the mighty nine symphonies of Beethoven. Perhaps there is also some validity in comparing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 - a monument of that composer’s “middle period” - with this Symphony No. 2 of Brahms’s “middle period,” as both are works of a light and sunny nature.

The Second Symphony of Brahms was composed during a visit to the Austrian Alps in the summer of 1877. It is basically a conservative work, preserving the structural principles of the classical symphony, in that two lively outer movements frame the inner movements: a slow second movement followed by a brief scherzo.

The first movement is predominantly tranquil in character. The cellos and basses open with a key three-note motive, which is developed throughout the movement, before the horns gently announce the main theme. A secondary theme appears in the remote key of F# minor. A coda, marked sempre tranquillo, leads to a peaceful conclusion. The second movement, dark and sombre in character, is dominated by a brooding subject first introduced by the cellos, and the tension is only briefly relieved by a contrasting syncopated theme introduced by the woodwinds. There is also a third theme which is treated fugally. In the third movement, a bucolic oboe theme, accompanied by pizzicato cello, is twice interrupted by a contrasting more lively subject in duple metre, before the movement closes with a tranquil reminiscence of the oboe theme. The main theme of the finale, introduced pianissimo in the strings, is abruptly interrupted by a full orchestral tutti which repeats and develops it. A lyrical second theme is introduced by the violins, and both are developed, as the work draws to a triumphant conclusion with brass fanfares and timpani drumroll.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Op. 61, in D Major

Ludwig Van BeethovenLUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827): Violin Concerto, Op. 61, in D Major. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was written in 1806 and dedicated to the virtuoso violinist, Franz Clement. However, the premiere performance was unsuccessful and the work languished in obscurity until revived in 1844 by Joseph Joachim. Since then it has remained among the most popular and best known of concertos.

The year 1806 marked the beginning of Beethoven’s “middle period.” Having come to terms with his growing deafness, Beethoven came into his own as a composer, breaking free from the classical, Viennese style of Haydn and Mozart and asserted his own voice in the new, heroic style exemplified by the Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, and other large works, such as the “Appassionata” Piano Sonata, Op. 57, the Fourth Piano Concerto, Op. 58, the “Rasumovsky” String Quartets, Op. 59, as well as his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 - both completed in 1806.

Like Beethoven’s Rondos for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 40 and Op. 50, from the late 1790s, the Violin Concerto shows a strong influence from the French school of violin playing, exemplified by Viotti, Rode and Kreutzer. The French influence is most notable in the “martial” beat of the timpani in its opening and in the prevalence of figuration in broken sixths and broken octaves in the solo part.

The first movement begins with five soft taps of the timpani. Another extraordinary feature follows moments later, when a timpani roll accompanies a surprising outburst of D-sharp, an intrusion which is repeated several times and has been referred to as the ‘dark’ in a work that moves “between sunshine and shadow.” Lyricism abounds in the hymn-like second movement, formally a simple theme with variations. However, here Beethoven repeats the theme verbatim, varying only the instrumental colour against the lightest of accompaniment. An outburst from the orchestra interrupts this reverie, and the soloist’s cadenza segues directly into the third movement, a lively rondo with a jaunty folk-like theme introduced by the soloist and answered by hunting calls from the horns. The soloist is called upon to deliver displays of increasing virtuosity, leading to a brilliant cadenza. The final orchestral restatement, while veering briefly into the minor, closes this concerto as energetically as it began.

César Franck: Symphony in D Minor

Photo of Cesar FranckCÉSAR FRANCK (1822-1890): Symphony in D Minor (1886-88). The Symphony in D Minor is the most famous orchestral work and the only mature symphony written by the 19th-century Belgian composer César Franck. After two years of work, the symphony was completed in August 1888, and premiered at the Paris Conservatory on 17 February 1889, only a year before Franck died.

Franck employed a cyclic structure in the composition of his symphony. Indeed, the Symphony in D Minor remains the most outstanding example of cyclic symphonic writing in the romantic tradition. However, Franck also used a typically “Germanic” sound, eschewing both the novelties of orchestration and the nationalistic themes that inspired Saint-Saëns and d'Indy. As a result, Franck’s Symphony fuses two distinct national forms: the French cyclic form and the German romantic symphonic form, with clear Lisztian and Wagnerian influences.

In a departure from typical late romantic symphonic structure, Franck’s Symphony in D Minor is in three movements, each of which refers to the four-bar theme introduced at the beginning of the piece. The first movement opens with that lithe subject which is spun through a variety of keys and forms the thematic basis for the cyclic treatment of the rest of the symphony. The second movement, famous for the haunting melody played by the English horn above plucked harp and strings, is punctuated by two trios and a lively section in the middle which has the flavour and colour of a scherzo. The Finale begins with possibly the most joyful and upbeat melody Franck ever wrote and is in a variant of sonata form. The coda recapitulates the core thematic material of the symphony which transforms into an exultant exclamation of the first theme, inverting its initial lugubrious appearance and bringing Franck’s symphony back to its beginnings.

Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Felix MendelssohnFELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847): Overture, Op. 21 (1826), and Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Ein Sommernachts Traum), Op. 61 (1842). At two separate times, Mendelssohn composed music based upon Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1826, as a 17 year-old at the start of his career, Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture. Sixteen years later, upon a commission from King Frederick William IV of Prussia, Mendelssohn wrote incidental music for a production of the play which incorporated the existing overture and which was premiered at the King’s New Palace in Potsdam on 14 October 1843.

Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with four chords in the woodwinds. Following the first theme in the violins, which represents the dancing fairies, a transition leads to a second theme, that of the lovers. This is followed by the braying of Bottom with hee-hawing evoked by the strings. A final group of themes, reminiscent of craftsmen and hunting calls, brings the exposition to a close. A development and recapitulation of this thematic material follows. Finally, the fairies return and have the last word, just as in Shakespeare’s play, and the overture ends, just as it began, with the same four chords in the winds.

The A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Op. 21, was incorporated into the Op. 61 incidental music as its overture and the first of its 14 numbers. Some of the numbers following the overture are also purely instrumental in nature. The Scherzo, dominated by chattering winds and dancing strings, serves as an intermezzo between Acts I and II of the play. The Nocturne, featuring a solo horn doubled by bassoons, accompanies the sleeping lovers between Acts III and IV. The intermezzo between Acts IV and V is Mendelssohn’s famous Wedding March.

The vocal numbers include the song, “Ye Spotted Snakes,” as well as the melodramas, “Over Hill, Over Dale,” “The Spells,” “What Hempen Homespuns,” and “The Removal of the Spells,” all of which serve to enhance Shakespeare’s text. The final musical number is the most extended vocal number: “Through This House Give Glimmering Light,” which is scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano and chorus. Puck’s famous valedictory speech, “If We Shadows Have Offended,” follows and is accompanied, as day breaks, by the four chords heard at the very beginning of the Overture, bringing the work full circle and to a fitting close.

Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, in D Minor

Johannes BrahmsBrahms’s First Piano Concerto, completed when the composer was but 25 years old, was his first publicly performed orchestral work. The first performance was in Hannover in January 1859, and followed by others in Leipzig and Hamburg. In the early performances, Brahms was either the soloist or the conductor.

In the course of composition, Brahms’s work assumed various forms. In 1854 it began as a sonata for two pianos. By July 27 of that year it was being transformed into a four-movement symphony. Throughout the process Brahms sought advice from a variety of friends, including the violinist Joseph Joachim and pianist Clara Schumann. Brahms ultimately decided to make the work a concerto for piano, his favoured instrument, in 1855-56, and more than twenty years would pass before Brahms would complete his first symphony.

The first movement, much the largest of the three, is in sonata form and divided into five sections: orchestral introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda. Brahms’s strict adherence to classical forms earned him a reputation for being musically conservative. Within the orchestral introduction, other themes are introduced, and the thematic material is further developed by both orchestra and soloist. The second movement, an Adagio in D major, is in ternary form with the main theme introduced by the bassoon. The Rondo finale is similar to, and clearly based upon, the finale of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Following the cadenza there is an extensive coda in the parallel key of D major in which the rondo themes continue to be developed.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 31, K. 297, in D Major

MozartMozart’s Symphony No. 31, also known as the “Paris” Symphony, was written during the twenty-two year-old composer’s ill-fated job-hunting sojourn to Paris in 1778. Much of the music Mozart wrote for Paris was lost, but one of the survivors is this symphony in D, premiered on 18 June.

Though Mozart had scant regard for French taste, he was careful to create effects that would arouse the enthusiasm of his audience. One such effect was in the first movement, which opened with unison D’s followed by an ascending scale in the violins - a premier coup d'archet wildly applauded by the Parisian audience. The Andante also went well, but the greatest enthusiasm was reserved for the opening of the finale, which began with eight bars of unaccompanied violins playing softly. The audience “shushed,” then clapped loudly when the orchestral tutti suddenly burst forth. Only the middle movement was thought controversial. According to Le Gros, the organiser of the Paris concerts, the original Andante was too long and had “too many modulations.” In response, Mozart wrote a second slow movement, a 6/8 Andantino, as a “simple and short” alternative.

Mozart had arrived in Paris on 23 March 1778, full of hope and accompanied by his mother, a reluctant chaperone. But neither Mozart nor his mother was a match for the wily power-brokers of the Parisian music scene, and on 3 July Mozart’s mother died in her lodgings - miserable and almost alone. Though Mozart tried his best, lasting success eluded him in Paris, just as it had everywhere else. Ultimately, he moved to Vienna in the 1780's, and the rest is history.

Richard Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Richard WagnerSiegfried Idyll was composed by Wagner as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. The first performance was on 25 December 1870, on the stairs of Wagner’s villa at Tribschen, and Cosima awoke to its opening melody. Although originally scored for a chamber ensemble of 13, Siegfried Idyll is often played by orchestras with more than one player on each string part.

Wagner’s opera Siegfried, premiered in 1876, incorporated music from the Idyll. Indeed, its main theme was given over to Brünnhilde in the opera’s final scene. In addition, Schlaf, kindlein, schlaf, a lullaby presented by the solo oboe, has also been linked to Wagner’s older daughter, Eva. Although Wagner wanted to keep the Siegfried Idyll as a private piece, he finally sold it to a music publisher in 1878.

Antonín Dvořák: Cello Concerto, Op. 104, B. 191

Antonín DvořákANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904): Cello Concerto, Op. 104, B. 191, in B Minor. Dvořák's Cello Concerto was written in 1894-95 for his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Wihan had asked Dvořák to write a cello concerto numerous times. However, Dvořák always refused Wihan’s requests, stating that, while the cello was a fine orchestral instrument, it was totally insufficient for a solo concerto.

Dvořák finally was inspired to write his Cello Concerto while in New York as the Director of the National Conservatory, a predecessor of today’s Juilliard School. A fellow teacher at the Conservatory, cellist/composer Victor Herbert, had premiered one of his cello concerti, in March 1894, and upon hearing it, Dvořák was inspired to fulfill Wihan’s request and to write a cello concerto of his own.

The first movement of Dvořák's Cello Concerto is in large-scale sonata form and opens with a lengthy orchestral introduction. Both themes are initially stated by the orchestra, and the soloist later expands upon them. The second movement, a lengthy and lyrical Adagio, notably features a cadenza-like section in which the solo cello, playing double stops interspersed with left-hand pizzicatos, is accompanied mainly by flutes. The finale is formally a rondo and opens with the main theme presented very quietly by the horns, then the oboes. After the solo cello presents the theme risoluto and forte, a series of varied episodes follows, the more noteworthy and memorable of which are slower and softer. One of the slower, quieter sections recalls themes from the first and second movements, reinforcing the cyclic structure of Dvořák's Cello Concerto. In another there is a memorable duet of the solo cello and the concertmaster. In a third, Dvořák pays tribute to his recently deceased sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Èermakova, in a slow wistful section quoting his songcycle, The Cypresses. Ultimately, as Dvořák himself stated, “the finale should close gradually with a diminuendo . . . like a breath . . . then there is a crescendo, and the last measures are taken up by the orchestra, ending stormily. That was my idea . . .”

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, in C Minor

Johannes BrahmsJOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897): Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, in C Minor (1855-76). The extremely long gestation period of Brahms’s First Symphony has attained almost legendary status. Brahms certainly approached the composition of his first symphony with extreme respect. Already proclaimed by Schumann in the 1850s to be the heir apparent to Beethoven, Brahms knew that his first symphonic effort would be subject to intense scrutiny and high expectations.

However, when Brahms published his First Symphony after more than twenty years as an active composer, it was instantly hailed as a supreme masterpiece. Its key of C minor with an ending in C major drew immediate comparison to Beethoven’s legendary Fifth Symphony. Moreover, the complexity of Brahms’s first movement, with its dense web of motives and lack of “singable” melodies, is balanced, much like in Beethoven, by exciting climaxes and passionate energy.

Brahms’s middle movements also have notable features, such as the nebulous phrase structure of the slow movement, the metrical ambiguities of its middle section, and the violin solo at the end, a rare indulgence for mature Brahms. While the third movement structurally resembles a scherzo and trio, it is certainly no scherzo. Nevertheless, such a moderately-paced “scherzo substitute” would ultimately appear in Brahms’s Second Symphony and Third Symphony as well. One innovative aspect of Brahms’s overall design is the symmetrical progression by major thirds between the movements: C, E, A♭, C - an unusual layout.

Brahms also followed Beethoven in shifting the weight towards the finale, in this case, a huge movement with a large double introduction. When the main part finally arrives, there is Brahms’s most inspired theme, the “big tune” that was soon compared to the “joy” theme of Beethoven’s Ninth. But Brahms’s First Symphony is more than a legend and one “big tune.” It is, with all due respect to Mahler’s “Titan,” the greatest First Symphony ever written, from the pounding timpani of the first movement’s introduction to the blazing C major chords at the end.