We started tonight’s show with the conclusion of last week’s Messiah, the 1741 masterpiece by Georg Friderich Handel. Just as beautiful as what we heard last week, only this time we got to hear the legendary “Hallelujah Chorus“, along with some other interesting arias and choral pieces (i.e. “I know that my Redeemer liveth“, “The Trumpet Shall Sound“, the duet between alto and tenor on “O death, where is thy sting“, among others). This is a work that is truly inspired, from start to finish. I’ll never tire of it. As with last week, we heard an excellent 1970 recording that features soprano Margaret Price, contralto Yvonne Minton, tenor Alexander Young, and bass Justino Diaz, with the Amor Artis Chorale and the English Chamber Orchestra, with Johannes Somary conducting and Colin Tilney doing the harpsichord and organ (the “bosso continuo”, essential to “historically informed” recordings).
After the conclusion of Messiah, we moved over to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose birthday is this coming Friday (Dec. 16th). The Sonata No. 9 for Violin and Piano, Op. 47, often referred to as the “Kreutzer Sonata“, was written in 1803 for the British violinist George Bridgetower, who premiered it with Beethoven on piano-forte in May of that year. Bridgetower, a noted virtuoso of Afro-Polish descent, sight-read the piece without having even seen it before, making a slight modification which Beethoven enthusiastically accepted. But Bridgetower fell out of favor with Beethoven by insulting a woman who turned out to be a friend of the composer. Beethoven removed the dedication, and rededicated it to another violin virtuoso, Rudolphe Kreutzer, who refused to play it on account of it having already been played by Bridgetower, declaring it incomprehensible and unplayable. Indeed, it is a challenge for a violinist – Beethoven frequently wrote without consideration of the difficulty in playing what was written, famously telling one complaining virtuoso, “What do I care for your miserable fiddle when the spirit moves me?” Tonight’s performance is a 1998 recording, with Itzhak Perlman on violin and Martha Argerich on piano, recorded live at the Chamber Music International Festival at Saratoga, NY.
We closed the show with a hearing of an early piece of his, the Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II. Written when he was 19, the piece is a clear statement on the immense musical promise that the young man held. It was never published in his lifetime, although Beethoven reused the soprano aria Da stiegen die Menschen an’s Licht for his opera Fidelio. It is said that Brahms, upon studying the rediscovered score in 1884, wrote to a contemporary that “even if there were no name on the title page, none other could be conjectured – it is Beethoven, through and through!” Indeed, one hears the essence of Beethoven’s style in this piece – the depth of the orchestral colors, the vivid dynamic range, the power of his compositional style – the same characteristics that made later works like his Fifth and Ninth Symphonies such staples of the orchestral repertoire. Tonight’s performance is a 1995 recording by the Corydon Orchestra and Singers, under the conduction of Matthew Best. The featured soloists were Janice Watson, Jean Rigby, John Mark Ainsley, and Jose van Dam.