The boundary between pain and pleasure is blurry, and this wonderful cello concerto feels like a balancing act between the abyss of pain and the summit of passion. Camille de Saint-Saëns wrote in 1902 his Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor (Op. 119). I have two recordings and I can recommend both. The first is by Zuill Bailey and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the second by Stephen Isserlis and the NDR Symphony Orchestra. What strikes me is the energy, the power, the tension of the piece maintained over the two movements with virtuosic parts for the cello and beautiful rhapsodic indulgences for the orchestra, first of all for the strings. What a pleasure it must be to perform this piece!
A Jewish woman is at the center of today’s work: Judith, who gave her name to a chapter of the Old Testament, the Book of Judith. The parable recounts the siege of the city of Bethulia by the Assyrian commander Holofernes and its deliverance by Judith. Bethulia never existed under this name, it may stand for Jerusalem, it certainly stands for a beleaguered city, its inhabitants terrorized and wavering in its faith in God. Judith however follows a heavenly vision, summons her courage and passes through the enemy lines. She enters Holofernes’ tent and by promising information on the Jews, she gains the commander’s trust. Seducing the enemy is the ultimate proof of her faith. One night Judith kills Holofernes and ends the ordeal of the city. A magnificent tale about courage, cunning, faith and women empowerment.
Talented, successful, rich and forgotten – the life of the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel was marked by a steep rise to the upper echelons of society, while after his death the music world quickly forgot him and never truly came around to acknowledge his creative spirit. For almost a year, poor Hummel has been languishing for another appearance on this blog and his Piano Trio in E flat Major, Op. 96 seems to be the right kind of music to accompany you and me through the first true days of spring.
A contemplation? Perhaps. Nature? The evanescence of all things of natural origin perhaps. Birth and death, creation, destruction – an eternal cycle. In 1865 Johannes Brahms composed his Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn in E flat major (Op. 40), and the German writer Max Kahlbeck drew a link between this work and the death of Brahms’s mother. Brahms’ personal papers however do not refer to any such extra-musical influence. Perhaps Brahms enjoyed just the pleasure to write a wonderful piece of music, of intellectual interest and charming to the ear.