Russian composers have always painted with bold strokes on broad canvases. This weekend the St. Louis Symphony, under the direction of the distinguished Austrian conductor Hans Graf, exhibited a kaleidoscopic display of a small portion of the magnificence of the Russian repertoire.
If you missed last week's big double dip of Russian romanticism or if (to quote a famous Big Band-era lyric) you just "can't get enough of that wonderful stuff," the St. Louis Symphony has another helping helping of it for you this weekend as Hans Graf leads the orchestra and violinist Augustin Hadelich in a program of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Lyadov.
The young (late 30s) Slovenian conductor Juraj Valcuha came to town for his SLSO debut this weekend with a stack of impressive reviews from locations as diverse as London, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Brahms to Szymanowski. Critics have praised his big sound, his precision, and what the Los Angeles Times critic called "his eloquent and flowing baton gestures."
Works by two giants of the Russian romantic school are on the Powell Hall Stage this week as the St. Louis Symphony under guest conductor Juraj Valcuha takes on Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" in C Minor, Op. 18 (first performed in 1901) with famed pianist André Watts as soloist and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6" in B minor, Op. 74 (a.k.a. the "Pathetique"), which had its first performance only eight years earlier.
The theme running through this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts, as Daniel Durchholz writes in his program notes, is "ecstatic expression". Specifically, "the sensual delights of Debussy, the religious rapture found in the deep devotion of [Scottish composer James] MacMillan, and Dvořák’s reveling in the country comforts of his homeland." I think he's on to something there.
Sons who go into the family business are often less successful than their fathers. In the case of the J.S. Bach family, though, it was just the opposite. Four of the ten Bach children who survived to adulthood went on to careers as composers and the two represented in this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts—Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) and Johann Christian (1735-1782)—went on to eclipse dad in popularity, at least during their lives.
As anyone who has ever taken a "music depreciation" course knows, Johann Sebastian Bach was almost as prolific a father as he was a composer. This weekend, Nicholas McGegan leads the St. Louis Symphony in a concert that's a genuine Bach family affair, featuring music by both J.S. Bach and two of his musical sons.
If the 1807 premiere of Beethoven's "Mass in C major" at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had been as good as the performance we got from David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Friday night, the prince might have been less of a jerk with the composer afterwards.
This weekend two of the three works on the St. Louis Symphony program are making their first appearances on the Powell Hall Stage. That's not exactly news; the SLSO has given local audiences a good many local and even world premieres over the years. What's remarkable is that this time the local premieres are by Beethoven.
We may never know who first applied the nickname "Jupiter" to Mozart's last symphony—American musicologist Daniel Heartz posits that it was impresario Johann Peter Salomon—but it's not hard to see why the name stuck.