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Music program carries German and Czech heritage

October 13, 2005|by ELIZABETH SCHULZE

This weekend's performances by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra mark the beginning of our 24th series of MasterWorks concerts. This season we're presenting some of the great mainstays of the classical repertoire along with some of the most promising rising stars in the music world.

Our program this weekend focuses on music heavily influenced by the traditions established by Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Carl Maria von Weber only lived 39 years, but his influence on the development of a true German opera was immense. While Beethoven wrote his only opera, "Fidelio," in his native German tongue, his contemporary Weber went a step further and infused his own operatic masterpiece, "Der Freischutz," with folk-like melodies designed to inspire feelings of German national pride in his audience. His use of recurrent melodies and harmonic keys to represent individual characters and places was an essential inspiration to the monumental works of Richard Wagner.

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Weber's Overture to "Der Freischutz" serves as a powerful opening to our program, with a brilliant use of instrumental color to evoke the setting of the forest, the world of the huntsmen and the never-ending search for elusive prey. Foreboding octaves give way to the horn calls of the hunters, one of the most difficult and beautiful moments for the horns in all of the literature. Weber stretches the virtuosic limits of the orchestra with brilliant figures for the strings and a soaring solo for the clarinet, his favorite instrument.

The rising star for this program is violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who joins the orchestra for Antonin Dvorak's Violin Concerto in A Minor. I first came to know of Pine's formidable abilities when I heard her play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a young teenager. Even then, her confidence, virtuosity and committed musicianship were stamped securely in her performance.

Dvorak's ability to spin a beautiful melody is legendary. His envious but supportive older colleague Johannes Brahms has been quoted as saying that the melodies Dvorak discarded would "keep other composers going for years." The violin concerto is molded along somewhat traditional lines as established by Beethoven. It contains a few themes that might qualify as "Brahmsian." And yet, the characteristic personality of the work is thoroughly Czech. The first and second movements, joined together, present the listener with a lyricism at first outgoing and gallant and then sweetly melancholy. The last movement could easily be another of Dvorak's popular "Slavonic Dances." The Czech dances the Furiant and the Dumka are evoked in this virtuosic finale for violin and orchestra alike.

The final work on the program is a personal favorite of mine. Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E Minor is a towering masterpiece of sweeping majesty. Its intricacies of form and harmonic language troubled Brahms' esteemed colleagues, such as the German critic Eduard Hanslick, who wrote "it was like being beaten up by two tremendously intelligent, witty people."

Elizabeth Schulze is music director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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