Masterworks 2: Mellow Cello
The NSO presents world-renowned cellist, Ofra Harnoy who joins the NSO under the direction of Marc David for Masterworks 2: Mellow Cello.
The concert features Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major. The program also features Mendelssohn’s Overture for Winds and Brahms’ Serenade No. 2, op. 16.
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Check out our digital pre-show Listen Up, hosted by Dale Jarvis. Listen as we go behind the scenes in interviews with the artists, musicians and composers behind our concerts. This concert features Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriott. Access Preshow here.
Unwind with a pre-show cocktail! This week’s feature is German Chocolate Cake. Let our friends at Piatto show you how to channel your inner mixologist here!
About Ofra Harnoy: Ofra Harnoy is one of the most recognized cellists in the world. Ofra has toured across Canada, the United States, the Far East and Australia, and has recorded more than 40 solo albums. She has also premiered many important works such as the world premier of Viotti cello Concerto in C. As one of Canada’s most celebrated personalities and a member of the International Artists Roster of RCA Victor Red Seal since 1987, Ofra Harnoy became the first Canadian classical instrumental soloist since Glen Gould to gain an exclusive worldwide contract with a major record label.
About Mendelssohn’s Overture for Winds: The subdued beginning of this single movement work leads to an expressive clarinet melody which moves first to the darker colours of the lower brass instruments, and then to the brighter woodwinds. Balanced phrases and a gentle flow enhance this songlike theme. Sudden trumpet fanfares of falling octaves interrupt the ambience as the instrumental texture thickens. Eventually, the flute wafts like a zephyr into the Allegro section. The sudden mood change is striking! Dramatic plunging octaves, short phrases and rhythmic syncopations lead to a puckish theme in woodwinds. Motifs are tossed about the different instruments. Trumpet fanfares announce the development section which features contrapuntal treatment of previously heard motivic fragments. Bach-like polyphony recalls Mendelssohn’s profound admiration of Baroque music. A truncated restatement of themes culminates in a rising, arpeggiated, brassy and percussive fanfare to finish the overture in a whirlwind of activity.
About Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major: The first movement Moderato begins with long jaunty theme which is elaborated by the solo cello. In Baroque Ritornello form, the entire movement is based on the opening melody and its subordinate ideas. Assertive chords on all four strings, rapid repeated notes and runs, sudden changes of register and a cadenza show off the cellist’s prowess. Pairs of oboes and horns add colour to the tutti sections. In the Adagio, the solo cello emerges almost imperceptibly on a long sustained note while the orchestra reiterates its opening theme. A lyrical cello melody featuring long scales and decorative gestures is accompanied by strings only. There is also a cadenza in this soulful movement. The last movement, Allegro molto, features an array of brilliant techniques. Once again, the soloist begins with a sustained pitch over the ritornello theme in the orchestra complete with oboes and horns. Playful motifs, sweeping chords, spectacular scales, breakneck arpeggios, high-pitched passage work, and huge leaps to different registers keep the soloist busy while the orchestra provides a persistent accompaniment in this breath-taking finale. Like many of Haydn’s concertos for various instruments, the Cello Concerto in C major was lost until 1961 when it was rediscovered in the Prague National Museum. How lucky for us!
About Brahms’ Serenade No. 2, op. 16: The buoyant Scherzo Vivace is composed of a playful wind tune in thirds and sixths. Brahms adds a touch of rhythmic ambiguity by alternating duple and triple meters. The Trio’s smoother melody is accompanied by relentless repeated notes in the strings. A Da Capo repeat and a brief coda end this fleeting movement. It’s like a breath of fresh air!
The Adagio non troppo was Clara Schumann’s favourite movement. She wrote to Johannes, “I cannot find the words to express the joy it gives me.” The opening bass line in strings is a variation of the zigzag theme from the first movement Allegro moderato. In this case, it forms a ground bass countermelody for the floating winds which drift from one instrument to another. The mood changes with a fortissimo descending motif in flutes, imitated by horns, over string tremolos. In an episode for winds only, the ground bass theme is shifted around until the cellos and bass take over. Brahms creates a varied texture by means of rhythmic ingenuity and continual transformations of the two main ideas. Indeed, as the movement progresses, it becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Towards the end, the floating wind melody returns to be dispersed into wispy fragments as the Adagio ends softly.
Short motifs in clarinets and bassoons expand into a tune in the upper winds in the swaying Quasi Minuetto movement. In the minor key Trio section, inquisitive motifs, related to the Minuetto, accompany an oboe melody over rustling tremolos in the violas. The ominous mood culminates in a long descending scale before the Da Capo repeat. Clara Schumann commented that the movement was “a trifle Haydn-ish.” Brahms was undoubtedly delighted!
The tuneful Rondo Allegro is full of rhythmic vitality and brilliant orchestration. A jocular melody in winds accompanied by strings, leads to a sinuous theme in clarinets and bassoons in thirds, followed by a new oboe tune guaranteed to make you smile! Rhythmic and melodic ideas are interchanged, varied and combined in imaginative ways. Melodies are prominently heard in strings as well as horns and winds. It all seems so effortless. The patient piccolo, silent throughout the four previous movements, finally joins in with triumphant trills above the entire orchestra. Full force winds drive this superbly crafted serenade to an exhilarating close.