Grimaud Plays Schumann

with the NAC Orchestra

2021-10-07 20:00 2021-10-28 21:10 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Grimaud Plays Schumann

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Opening with the musical equivalent of a soft caress, Robert Schumann’s romantic Symphony No. 4, is by turns tender, dramatic, and joyful. Tinged with tension and ambiguity, this lovely symphony questions and reveals, reflecting humanity in every bar. Then, celebrated French pianist Hélène Grimaud makes her long-awaited return to Southam Hall to perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Truly a renaissance woman, Hélène understands the mind of Schumann like few...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
October 7 - 28, 2021
Video on-demand

≈ 90 minutes · No intermission

Last updated: October 7, 2021

This concert pairs Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 4, both of which had their compositional origins in the year 1841, though he eventually revised them—in 1845 and 1851, respectively—to the final versions you’ll hear performed tonight. This bears mentioning, because these works shed light on some of Schumann’s aesthetic preoccupations in writing for the orchestral medium. Like many composers in the generation after Beethoven, Schumann was concerned with the future directions of the symphony and the concerto genres, and how he could make his own creative contribution. For these two works, it seems the idea of “fantasy” was at the core. Notably, Schumann himself referred to his Fourth Symphony as a “symphonic fantasy”, and his Piano Concerto originated as a Phantasie for piano and orchestra. 


R. Schumann

Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120

I. Ziemlich langsam – Lebhaft (Quite slow – Lively)
II. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam (Quite slow)
III. Scherzo: Lebhaft (Lively)
IV. Langsam – Lebhaft (Slow – Lively)

With this symphony, Schumann was interested in creating a large-scale work in which all the movements are unified by common thematic and harmonic threads and motives, as well as are linked together with no breaks in between. The composer’s model may well have been Franz Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, the four movements of which are played continuously, and are bound by all their themes coming from a single motive. (This would further clarify his reference to the D minor symphony as a “symphonic fantasy”.)

In the Fourth Symphony, the thematic “motto” on which the entire work’s musical material is based is the flowing melody presented at the beginning of the slow introduction. The ensuing main movement unfolds rather freely (again, in keeping with musical notions of “fantasy”), and is dominated by an energetic, restless theme of shifting character. Later, two other important ideas appear—one, a triumphant march-like motive that reaches two pauses, the other, a gracious lyrical theme. Before the movement’s close, all three themes return, in more closely integrated fashion.

Following a brief pause, the Romanze opens with oboe and solo cello singing a folk-like melody, after which the flowing “motto” from the symphony’s introduction makes a return. In the movement’s central section, the motto assumes a more uninhibited quality in the major mode, played by the strings with solo violin sinuously elaborating overtop.

The Scherzo introduces a vigorous new theme—it has an up-then-down shape that is the reverse of the motto’s. It returns between two Trios, which feature the winding solo violin melody from the middle of the Romanze, now played by the first violins. At the end of second Trio, the melody becomes fragmented, and its initial energy dissipates. Here, the music transitions from mystery to grandeur, with trombones and then all brass slowly intoning the march-like motive from the middle of the first movement, alongside an ascending figure in the violins from the end of the opening introduction. These ideas become the main themes of the Finale, now robust and triumphant. A culmination of all that has come before, the movement evolves into a joyous dance, gathering increasing energy, to bring the symphony to a thrilling finish.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

R. Schumann

Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 54

I. Allegro affettuoso
II. Intermezzo: Andante grazioso –
III. Allegro vivace

In May 1841, around the time he was also sketching his D minor symphony, Robert Schumann drafted a Phantasie in A minor for piano and orchestra. On August 13, his wife, the virtuoso pianist and composer Clara Schumann (née Wieck) gave two trial performances of this one-movement concert piece at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. She was keen about the work, commenting that “the piano is interwoven with the orchestra in the most subtle way—one cannot imagine the one without the other.” This would have encouraged Robert, who thought the future direction of the concerto laid, in part, in creating a new equal and more integrated relationship between soloist and orchestra.

Lack of interest from publishers and concert organizers led Robert to put the Phantasie aside. However, he picked it up again in the summer of 1845, when he reworked it into a concerto, adding a Rondo finale and an Intermezzo to come before, while the Phantasie, revised, became the first movement. In December, Clara, as the soloist, gave the first performance of the Concerto in Dresden, then in Leipzig a month later, to positive reviews. Since the late 19th century, it continues to be one of the most frequently performed and admired concertos.

The Concerto begins as a dramatic intrusion by orchestra and piano; the oboe then sings the tender first theme, to which the piano immediately responds. Soloist and orchestra continue in dialogue—subtly at first, more impassioned as the movement progresses, to finally, exuberance. The “fantasy” element is clearly borne by the piano part, with its rippling arpeggios and constantly evolving melodies.

The brief Intermezzo has a gracious elegance. There’s a gentle theme on tiptoe but the middle section is the movement’s emotional heart, with a luscious cello melody of yearning leaps, around which the piano weaves embellishments. The tiptoe theme returns but seems to lose its way. As if a summons, the opening theme from the first movement, in a brighter version, is recalled by clarinets and bassoons; the piano responds with delicately falling chords. Suddenly, the tempo rushes forward into the finale’s exuberant rondo theme (in fact a variant of the opening melody). Lively episodes ensue, including a playful use of metres and orchestral counterpoint. In the final minutes, the piano part becomes its most fantastical and virtuosic, driving the Concerto to an exhilarating conclusion.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

NAC Orchestra

Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Marjolaine Lambert
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Manuela Milani
Leah Roseman
Erica Miller*
Annie Guénette* 

Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Mark Friedman
Carissa Klopoushak
Frédéric Moisan
Edvard Skerjanc
Karoly Sziladi
Andréa Armijo-Fortin*
Renée London*
Heather Schnarr*

Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Paul Casey
Ren Martin-Doike
David Thies-Thompson
Sonya Probst*

Soo Gyeong Lee*
Rachel Mercer (principal / solo)
John Corban*

Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Marjolaine Fournier
Vincent Gendron
Joel Quarrington*
Paul March*

Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice

Christopher Millard (principal)
Vincent Parizeau

Lawrence Vine (principal) (Symphony)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal) (Concerto)
Elizabeth Simpson
Louis-Pierre Bergeron
Micajah Sturgess*
Olivier Brisson* (Symphony)

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik

Donald Renshaw (principal)
Colin Traquair
Douglas Burden

Feza Zweifel (principal)

Nancy Elbeck

Corey Rempel

Meiko Lydall

*Additional musicians