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Mozart & Moravec: Themes and variations

6 December 2016: Stratford ArtsHouse

  • Joseph Haydn – Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major, Hob.I:105
  • Paul Moravec – Nocturne [world premiere]
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Symphony no41 ‘Jupiter’ in C major, K551

Today’s concert features three outstanding, immensely prolific composers – all at the height of their powers. Joseph Haydn, during the first of his two visits to London: and therefore at the outset of writing his twelve glorious, final symphonies. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – albeit in financial straits; and possibly on the verge of depression – three years before his death and his final great outpourings; but rapidly completing his three last stupendous symphonies in successive summer months.

And Paul Moravec? Even after winning the Pulitzer Prize, in 2004, for his spine-tingling Tempest Fantasy – just one of many awards; just one of many astounding works – here is an extremely productive musician, who, it appears, never rests on his laurels, but continues to produce characteristic, emotive music for a wide range of forces: all of which he treats with equal reverence, skill, and love. Fortunately for us, one of his most recent compositions is Nocturne – written to celebrate the orchestra’s 21st Anniversary season as a companion piece to the Sinfonia Concertante which opens the programme.

Using the same soloists as Haydn – with the addition of cor anglais to the oboe part (and with only strings for the main orchestra) – this is a highly imaginative, lyrical piece: engrossing from first note to last. It also exhibits some of the wit that the earlier composer is renowned for – especially in its “Playful, quick” third movement.

But why is Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante itself not more well-known? Anthony van Hoboken, who catalogued the composer’s works (hence the ‘Hob.’ number attached to each), obviously believed this delightful creation slotted naturally into the ‘Symphonies’ category (Hob.I) – assigning it the number 105 – although, chronologically, it comes between the 96th and 97th. As it contains much of the drama and inventiveness of those works – albeit in a slightly more compact form – I am convinced we, too, should treat it with reverence.

As to the final work, “reverence” – as well as astonishment – is more than due. It simply does not matter whether you consider Mozart’s Jupiter the greatest symphony ever written – or merely(!) the greatest symphony of one of the greatest composers who ever lived – it will always stand as an imposing, sunlit monument to the man and the genre.

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