Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Russian Fourth on a (rainy) Mall?

I had to double up to see the Fourth Concert on the Mall this year and “cheat”, using the WETA rebroadcast at 9:30. (I got invited to supper by school alumni, and saw some illegal fireworks in apartment complex parking lots driving home.) The program appears halfway down this webpage: Early, Taylor Hicks from American Idol sung (sorry, no Ryan Seacrest). It looks like the DC area was sandwiched between masses of rain along a stationary front. It was clear out around Fairfax City, and raining closer to the City.

But something struck me about the climax, the cannons and fireworks display. Erich Kunzel conducted the recapitulation and coda from Tchaikovky’s 1812 Overture, with the National Symphony chorus singing a Czarist Russian anthem. (for example, look here. ) It struck me as odd in a US patriotic celebration.

Furthermore, the music should have justice done, even an old warhorse like this. The Overture Solonnelle 1812 in E-flat, Op. 49 really works much better when played in completion, with the tremendous climaxes and cannon shots coming together during recapitulation. But that leaves less time for the “pops.”

I think one year the Symphony played the Danish Anthem Overture. One year I think the Shostakovich Festival overture was played, also.

My favorite orchestral climaxes is Tchaikovsky usually come in minor keys, with some "violence". The end of Francesca da Rimini, the end of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, and the end of the first movement of the Manfred. The scherzo (third movement) of the Pathetique ends "triumphantly", the last moment of joy before what follows in the ashen finale. And I wonder how many people notice that the broad movement plans of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique run in parallel.

As for Russian choral music, I remember the big chorus from Boris Goudonov playing on an old Melodiya recording in my New York apartment one time in the 1970s, during an event of some personal importance. Somehow, the use of the chorus in the 1812 last night brought that memory to mind.

Picture: Clay Aiken ("Learning to Sing") performed at the 2004 concert.

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