Complicated emotions and simple pleasures were on the program of the first Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert of the season.
The Beautiful Brahms and Beethoven concert Saturday at the Red Deer College Arts Centre started out with the complex: the Double Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Cello, by Brahms.
Guest artists Annette-Barbara Vogel, on violin, and Beth Root Sandvoss on cello helped the RDSO bring gradations of feeling to Brahms’s concerto, which was written as an offering of contrition to his estranged friend, the great violinist Joseph Joachim.
A deep rift was caused between Brahms and Joachim when the composer took the side of Joachim’s wife in divorce proceedings initiated by the violinist. A regretful Brahms later wrote this concerto as a peace offering to Joachim, and inlaid it with a secret code, using the repetition of the notes F, E, and A to match Joachim’s personal motto of frei aber einsam (free, but lonely).
While this touch seems needlessly complicated, it made perfect sense to Joachim, who patched things up with Brahms.
Not only was the composer forgiven his transgression, but he ended up with an interesting piece of music — one of the few 19th-Century concertos featuring two different instruments.
Sandvoss began with a beautifully wrought cello solo, which seemed to lay out all the composer’s conflicted emotions. Her sorrowful tones were later contrasted with Vogel’s tense violin playing and some tumultuous orchestral accompaniment.
The overall effect ranged from melancholy to melodramatic. At one point, Vogel, herself, seemed to jump with each decisive, upward stroke of her bow, as if to amplify the aural angst.
While the difficulty of performing pieces for two solo instruments is finding two well-matched players, the RDSO, led by conductor Claude Lapalme, did well to recruit Sandvoss and Vogel.
Sandvoss, from Bragg Creek, is a member of the University of Calgary String Quartet and the acclaimed Land’s End Chamber Ensemble, which has twice won a Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Classical Recording. The Wisconsin-born cellist is also a faculty member at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal College Conservatory.
Vogel is a professor at the University of Western Ontario. Born and raised in Germany, Vogel made her orchestra debut at 12 and later studied violin at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. Vogel, who often performs with Sandvoss, is founder of the Magisterra-lnternational Chamber Music Festival.
Both musicians are equally nuanced players who brought great colour and expression to Brahms’s emotional concerto.
From Brahms, the RDSO swung to Beethoven, who happened to be Brahms’s spiritual musical mentor.
Of the two, it’s usually Beethoven who’s associated with tumultuous emotion. But calmer feelings prevailed in his popular “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 in F Major. The piece, which was used as a soundtrack to the mythical animal portion of Disney’s film Fantasia, is Beethoven’s personal ode to nature.
The RDSO started playing a joyful melody that the composer described as “the awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country.”
The flowery music seemed to gather momentum until it wound into an exuberant dance.
The second movement was more deliberately paced, but contained a buoyant melody reflective of Beethoven’s description of a “scene at the brook.”
A lively processional tune then led to “a happy gathering of country folk,” and thundering drums helped created the fourth stormy movement.
The symphony ended with calm, meditative strains led by the woodwind section. In Beethoven’s words, this was meant to convey “cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.”
The RDSO not only weathered Beethoven’s brief thunderstorm in fine style, the orchestra also handled Brahms’s emotional storm with great feeling and finesse.