Torleif Thedéen and Roland Pöntinen

Cello and Piano

October 7, 2018, 4 pm

Music Room

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Ulf Wallin will not be able to perform, and the program for this concert has changed. 

The opening concert of the 2018/2019 Phillips Music season brings together two of Sweden’s most distinguished musicians, each of whom is an internationally renowned soloist. Cellist Torleif Thedéen won both the Casals and Rostropovich cello competitions before embarking on a very successful career. Thedéen and pianist Roland Pöntinen have made many acclaimed recordings, including the Prokofiev Sonata in this concert. Pöntinen himself has a large solo repertoire ranging from Liszt to Ligeti as well as being a sought-after chamber music pianist. 

Program:

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
     Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo
     Allegro molto più tosto presto
     Rondo. Allegro

ALFRED SCHNITTKE (1934-98)
Cello Sonata No. 1
     Largo
     Presto
     Largo

INTERMISSION

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12

SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cello Sonata in C Major, Op. 119
     Andante Grave - Moderato Animato
     Moderato - Andante dolce
     Allegro, ma non troppo


This concert is presented in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden.

Torleif Thedéen is one of the most highly regarded cellists working today, regularly playing with many of the world’s major orchestras, including the Wiener Symphoniker, Orchestre Philharmonique de Bordeaux, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Berliner Symphoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Dresdner Philharmonie, BBC Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Berliner Symphoniker, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Israel Sonfinietta, Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Hallé Orchestra, and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, under conductors Esa-Pekka Salonen, Paavo Berglund, Neeme Järvi, Franz Welser-Möst, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Leif Segerstam, and Eri Klas. Thedéen is also active as a chamber musician, and as such appears in prestigious concert venues worldwide such as Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He often participates in prestigious music festivals, among them the Verbier Festival, Prague Spring Festival, the festivals in Schleswig-Holstein, Bordeaux, Oslo, Bath, Stavanger, and Kuhmo.

Since 1986, Thedéen has made numerous recordings for BIS, featuring standard repertoire works as well as contemporary music, including the renowned Dvořák Cello Concerto. His album of Shostakovich Cello Concertos won the Cannes Classical Award, and his recording of J.S. Bach’s Solo Suites for Cello was named Editor’s choice in BBC Music Magazine. Thedéen has toured with soloists including Julian Rachlin and Janine Jansen to festivals in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. He has also toured Scandinavia and England with the Musica Vitae Chamber Orchestra of Sweden.

Thedéen has toured worldwide with Janine Jansen & Maxim Rysanov, following a recording with DECCA, he performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Mario Venzago), toured with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, and recorded with NDR Orchestra in Hannover, Germany. Career highlights include concerts in Finland, Spain, and a chamber music tour which included appearances at Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall. Recent appearances included performances at the Helleruplund Kirke and the Hørsholm Musikforening in Denmark, an Australasian Tour including performances with the Auckland Philharmonia and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

Thedéen was appointed Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music in fall of 2017, and has been Professor at the Edsberg Music Institute in Stockholm since 2016. He plays a cello by David Techler, dating from 1711, formerly owned by Lynn Harrell.

Born in 1963, Swedish pianist Roland Pöntinen made his debut at age 17 with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. Since then he has performed with the major orchestras in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Holland, Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, the US, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Highlights include concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, playing the Ligeti Piano Concerto at the London Proms, and performances with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Paris (Chatelet) and London (Royal Festival Hall). Pöntinen and violinist Ulf Wallin gave the world premiere in spring 2006 of the Anders Eliasson’s Double Concerto, which was written for them and commissioned by the Finnish Radio Orchestra.

He and fellow Swede, Love Derwinger, also enjoy success performing the double piano concerto repertoire. He has collaborated with, amongst others, Marin Alsop, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Myung-Whun Chung, Péter Eötvös, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, John Storgårds, Franz Welser-Möst, David Zinman, Sergiu Comissiona, Leif Segerstam, Okko Kamu, János Fürst, Sixten Ehrling, Jacques Mercier, and Mikhail Agrest.

Although a great virtuoso with a concerto repertoire ranging from the classics to unusual and demanding works like the Barber, Ligeti, and Scriabin concerti, Pöntinen devotes a great deal of attention to the recital repertoire and is also a very keen chamber music player. He has participated in a number of festivals such as Berlin Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Edinburgh Festival, La Roque d’Antheron Festival, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Oviedo Piano Festival, Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, Salzburg Festival, Piano Rarities in Schloss vor Husum, and Styriarte in Graz. In the summer of 2007 he performed at both the Ruhr Klavier Festival, Germany (this performance was televised) and in Verbier, Switzerland.

Pöntinen has made over 70 recordings on the BIS, Philips, Arte Nova, and CPO labels, as well as his own Haddock label. He is also an active composer and his work Blue Winter was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch.

In the UK, Pöntinen has performed at Wigmore Hall many times, most recently with clarinetist Martin Fröst. He has given two solo recitals for the BBC with a third planned, as well as master classes. He has played works by Rachmaninov with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Marin Alsop, performed on several occasions with the Scottish Chamber and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestras, as well as playing at the Proms (works by bothGrieg and Ligeti). In September 2007 he made a successful debut with the Orchestra of Opera North and Jacek Kaspszyk playing the Grieg Concerto.

Pöntinen is a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and has recently received the Royal Gold Medal “Litteris et artibus” for achievements in the artistic field.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2
When Mozart had visited the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1789, he was commissioned to compose a set of quartets, and the resulting “Prussian” quartets are notable for their prominent and demanding cello parts, written for the King’s principal cellist, Jean-Pierre Duport (1741–1818). It was probably his equally gifted younger brother, Jean-Louis Duport (1749–1819), for whom Beethoven composed his first two sonatas for piano and cello in May–June 1796 (Jean–Louis had succeeded his brother as first cellist at the court in 1789). The playing of the younger Duport attracted widespread admiration, and Voltaire declared to him: “Sir, you make me believe in miracles, for you turn an ox into a nightingale.”

The two sonatas Beethoven wrote for Duport effectively invented a new genre—neither Haydn nor Mozart composed sonatas for cello and piano—and they also demonstrated the individuality of the young composer’s style: Beethoven was still only his mid-twenties when he wrote them.

The Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2, begins with a slow introduction that presents a dramatic dialogue between the instruments. After an emphatic G minor chord, the falling scale of the piano is answered by an enigmatic phrase on the cello, a process that is then repeated and extended. A more lyrical melody is heard on the cello, echoed by the piano, and the ideas already introduced are woven into a texture enriched by rapid-arpeggiated figures on the piano, dominated by the descending scale from the opening, but now mirrored by an ascending scale in an impassioned interchange between cello and piano. The slow introduction sinks into phrases punctuated by uneasy silences, and this leads to the main Allegro molto più tosto presto. Here the principal theme is introduced by the cello, quickly answered by the piano, initiating an intense exchange between the instruments, propelled by rapid piano figurations. There are moments of contrast (including a delightful dancing theme introduced in the development section), but for most of this movement, there’s a powerful feeling of driving and energetic momentum. Beethoven demonstrates in this early work an ability to create a startlingly vivid musical landscape with the greatest economy—something he would exhibit in his later works—by using a few terse ideas and developing these to the fullest possible extent.

The concluding Rondo is a striking contrast to what has gone before. Beethoven takes us from the turbulence of the first movement to a finale in G Major, marked by a certain formal elegance at the start, and interrupted with a few darker outbursts. The mood is above all one of affirmation, and a celebration of instrumental virtuosity.
 

Alfred Schnittke, Cello Sonata No. 1
The first of Schnittke’s cello sonatas was composed in 1978 and dedicated to the great Russian cellist Natalia Gutman. Four decades on, it has become one of Schnittke’s most frequently performed chamber works, its music both disturbing and atmospheric. It is a piece that owes a clear debt to Shostakovich in its use of sparing lines and seemingly simple harmonic formulae to achieve profound expressive effects. The first movement opens with the cello alone—a slow, plaintive song that is marked by some angular intervals and double-stopping. The piano enters this bleak musical landscape with pale, unsmiling chords. The cello launches into an impassioned solo passage, and the movement ends with hum-like piano chords and uneasy cello pizzicato. The Presto is a scherzo that is almost unremittingly fast and furious. It begins with the cello alone playing a rapid rather ghostly idea interrupted by low piano notes, and the movement grows to an exciting climax, using short repeating ideas to propel the music relentlessly forward. What happens next comes as a complete surprise: after a momentary lull, Schnittke introduces a gawky, waltz-like idea marked by grotesque piano chords and cello trills. The opening material returns in slightly varied form and after a huge piano chord (a fortissimo arm cluster) presaging calamity, the cello plays multiple-stopped pizzicato chords before falling silent, and the piano takes over the frenetic fast idea (marked fortissimo and sempre martellatissimo) to bring the movement to a neurotic close. The concluding Largo is much the longest movement of the Sonata. It begins with a powerful emotional outburst from both instruments. The influence of Shostakovich is very apparent here, but Schnittke’s individual voice is always in evidence too: his idiosyncratic harmonic language (often including simple intervals of thirds and sixths) creates a sound world that is both austere and highly charged. As the movement unfolds, the lines become more fragmented, and a hushed snatch of the piano music that ended the Presto comes back as a ghostly echo to bring the Sonata to a haunting close.

 

Sergei Rachmanionff, from Preludes, Op. 32: No. 5 in G Major, No. 12 in G-sharp minor
Rachmanionff’s 13 Preludes, Op. 32, were composed in 1910, some seven years after his Op. 23 Preludes, completing a suite of 24 works in all Major and minor keys, as Chopin had done before him. The Preludes emerged at a particularly fruitful time in Rachmaninoff’s career, preceded by the popular Piano Concerto No. 3 and Symphonic Poem, Isle of the Dead, both from 1909. The Op. 32 preludes were immediately followed by the nine Études-tableaux of Op. 33. Like the quasi-pictorial nature of the Études-tableaux, Rachmanionff’s Op. 32 Preludes are, above all, character portraits; studies in different moods and emotional states. The Prelude in G Major presents a gently rocking left-hand motif which anchors a delicate, contemplative right-hand melody that alternates between simple textures and filigreed passagework. Inverting the shape of the G Major Prelude, the G-sharp minor prelude presents a repetitive arpeggiated motion in the right-hand, which colors a left-hand melody that is decidedly more pensive than lyrically beautiful. Much of the chromaticism and harmonic movement of the G-sharp minor Prelude is redolent of the Piano Concerto No. 3, and the piece builds to a climactic apex (a quintessential feature of Rachmaninoff’s music), from which the momentum and tempo begins to diminish. A final somewhat playful upward chromatic figure brings this Prelude to its final cadence.
 

Sergei Prokofiev, Cello Sonata in C Major, Op. 119
In 1947, Mstislav Rostropovich won first prize in an international competition in Prague. When Prokofiev heard the young cellist performing his First Cello Concerto on December 21 of that year, he decided to compose a piece specifically for Rostropovich and the result was the Cello Sonata, composed in 1949, to be performed by Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter. In post-war Soviet Russia, new works had to be approved by the Union of Soviet Composers before they could be heard in public, and Richter later recalled the process: “We gave the first performance of Prokofiev's Cello Sonata. Before playing it in concert, we had to perform it at the Composer’s Union, where these gentlemen decided the fate of all new works. During this period more than any other, they needed to work out whether Prokofiev had produced a new masterpiece or, conversely, a piece that was ‘hostile to the spirit of the people.’ Three months later, we had to play it again at a plenary session of all the composers who sat on the Radio Committee, and it wasn't until the following year that we were able to perform it in public, in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on March 1, 1950.”

The work was well received at its premiere, and Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Nikolai Myaskovsky described the sonata as “a miraculous piece of music.” The first movement opens with a brooding theme in the cello’s lowest register, only gradually emerging from the depths before arriving at a slightly quicker section (marked Moderato animato) and a dramatic climax, before a return to the opening material and a virtuoso coda, which eventually subsides into quiet C Major chords. The second movement is in F Major and begins with an apparently simple theme heard on the piano (full of harmonic quirks), its short rhythmic cells soon generating further ideas in a complex dialogue between cello and piano. A central section in B-flat Major introduces a contrasting idea in triple time before the initial ideas return and the movement ends delicately. The finale is full of harmonic adventures—the music shifting effortlessly through a bewildering range of keys—while maintaining an almost constant sense of forward momentum. A moment of reflective respite comes before the exciting close, which Prokofiev published in two versions (one less technically demanding than the other), bringing the work to a powerful conclusion that definitively establishes the home key of C Major.
 

Notes for Beethoven, Schnittke, Prokofiev: Nigel Simeone, 2018
Notes for Rachmaninoff: Jeremy Ney, 2018