The Staatskapelle Berlin, led by its Music Director Daniel Barenboim, has spent the latter part of January in presenting at Carnegie Hall the full cycle of Anton Bruckner's symphonies paired at each concert with works by Mozart, many of them piano concertos featuring Mr. Barenboim as soloist. On Friday evening, New York's classical music station WQXR broadcast one of these performances live.
The program opened with one of Mozart's most enjoyable works for orchestra, the Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364 (1779). He composed the piece in Salzburg after having just returned from a journey to Mannheim and Paris. Mannheim had then one of the finest orchestras in Europe and new musical ideas were constantly being introduced by its virtuoso musicians. No doubt it was at least partly his experience in Mannheim that inspired Mozart to create a work far more advanced than his earlier compositions and one that might well be considered his first great orchestral masterpiece. It was in Paris, however, that Mozart had been introduced to the sinfonia concertante form which was then quite popular there. An outgrowth of the Baroque concerto grosso, the sinfonia concertante differed from the modern double concerto in its emphasis on the interaction between the two solo instruments rather than on that between soloists and orchestra. Mozart's preferred string instrument was the viola - he played it when performing quartets with Haydn - and he endowed it with greater prominence in this piece by having it tuned a half tone higher than the violin and then writing the viola part in D major rather than E flat major. In all, the work displays a wonderful level of adeptness in integrating the sound of violin, viola and orchestra as in the first movement, for example, when the soloists make their initial appearance playing the same notes as the orchestra only two octaves higher. At the heart of the piece, literally, is the second movement andante unusually set in the key of C minor to create a greater sense of pathos; some critics have seen this as Mozart's elegy to his mother who had died during the stay in Paris. The featured soloists were the Staatskapelle's concertmaster, violinist Wolfram Brandl, and the orchestra's principal violist, Yulia Deyneka. Their playing was exceptional, as good as or better than could have been obtained with more famous guest soloists.
After intermission, the broadcast concluded with Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-1883, rev. 1885). Although Bruckner is often mentioned in the same breath as Wagner - the second movement adagio in the present work was actually composed as an elegy in anticipation of Wagner's death - Bruckner, no matter how high his regard for his mentor, was not a fellow Romantic but rather a throwback to an earlier, pre-Enlightenment era in which artists labored anonymously for the greater glory of God. Even in his personal life, the composer lived the simple life of a medieval monk, or as close to it as one could come in nineteenth century Vienna. Bruckner was already 60 years old when he achieved his first major success with the No. 7. The work - dedicated to Wagner's patron, Ludwig II of Bavaria - established Bruckner's reputation as a major composer even though it was savaged by the critic Eduard Hanslick when first performed in Vienna. Like all Bruckner's symphonic writing, the No. 7 is a long work that never hurries itself; instead, it takes as much time as it needs to build in apparently leisurely fashion to an overwhelming finale. The influence of Wagner is apparent throughout the piece, especially in the second movement in which the imaginative listener can hear a softly echoing invocation of the gods of Valhalla. There are several different versions of this work - Bruckner's friends and supporters were always willing to "correct" his works to make them more accessible to audiences - but Carnegie Hall's program notes unfortunately do not indicate which version was used here. In any event, the symphony was given a thoughtful interpretation that was all the more important since the work is so seldom performed.
The archived performance will most likely be available to listeners for some time on WQXR's website.