The Mariinsky Theatre Stradivari Ensemble is a group of musicians who perform on the world’s most famous and unique-sounding string instruments in the world. The ensemble was founded on the initiative of Valery Gergiev, Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre. The Stradivari Ensemble includes the finest instrumentalists and lead soloists in the Mariinsky Orchestra. Popular and well-loved classical works sound completely different when performed by them than at an average concert thanks to the incredibly rich and beautiful timbres of the instruments of Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Guadanini and Gofriller.
The legacy of Ottorino Respighi
includes many works that revived Italian music from past eras. Among them are the three suites Antiche arie e danze per liuto
(Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute
, 1917, 1923 and 1931). They comprise 16th
century works for lute freely adapted for strings. The third suite
also exists in a version for string quartet. It opens with the piece Italiana by an unknown composer of the late 16th
century – even, measured, passionless and relatively lifeless – this is how the ideal of the “early style” was seen in the time of Respighi. The court (or courtly) Aria by the Burgundian Jean-Baptiste Besard is an entire suite of short pieces that are different in character. The anonymous Sicilienne is melancholy, like almost every Sicilienne of the 20th
century, while the final Passacaglia by Count Ludovico Roncalli (who, in fact, composed it not for the lute but for the guitar) is predictably triumphant. Judging by the four-note chords given initially to the violins and subsequently to all the other strings, in his free arrangement Respighi was clearly imitating Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Chaconne for solo violin.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed his Symphony No 29 in A Major (K. 201) in Salzburg on 6 April 1774. Later an unknown hand removed the date in the manuscript, and music historians had to call in criminologists in order to read the vanished writing using colour filters.
The symphony was composed at a time when the distinction between orchestral and chamber music was not yet inviolable. The first two movements are delicate, indeed almost intimate. The secondary theme of the second movement is literally woven from incredibly light sighs, while in the short development one can hear the “cooing” of the violins. The last two movements, on the other hand, are energetic. The menuetto is adorned with calls of the oboes and the French horns (other than these there are no wind instruments in the orchestra), and each section of the finale concludes with a soaring passage of the violins crowned by a heroic coda. Three movements of the symphony (all apart from the menuetto) are written in dynamic sonata form. Each of them concludes with a coda in which the main theme of each returns, as if the eighteen-year-old composer were summing up what he had achieved with a confident hand each time.
Felix Mendelssohn composed five symphonies for full orchestra and thirteen for string orchestra. He finished the score of his Ninth Symphony for String Orchestra on 12 March 1823, at the age of just fourteen. For his early maturity and the surprising effortlessness with which he wrote, Mendelssohn is not infrequently compared with Mozart. The first movement of the Ninth, with the exception of the pathétique introduction, is restrained in exactly Mozart’s style and the entire symphony is rich in polyphonic techniques, as if Mendelssohn were aspiring to surpass Mozart’s Jupiter symphony.
In the second movement of the symphony the young composer uses modest means and, with their assistance, creates a masterful canvas – as is well known, limitations frequently stimulate inspiration...
He contrived to split the small orchestra in two: the first section in major key and the reprise are performed by the violins, the central section (a fugato in minor) by the violas, cellos and double basses. Such powerful contrasts for strings alone are rarely to be found in music.
The third movement is a hunting scherzo (the first such in the music of Mendelssohn, the composer-to-be of the famous scherzo in the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The pastorale trio contains a theme from a Swiss song that Mendelssohn heard while travelling with his parents in Switzerland: because of this fact, the Ninth Symphony is sometimes referred to as the Swiss.
Almost the entire finale of the String Symphony in C Major, including the swift and strident coda, flows in C minor (in all probability following the example of Haydn’s Emperor quartet). This movement is unique for its polyphonic nature. Typically, a composer wishing to employ fugato in sonata form places it in the development, while Mendelssohn gave the symphony’s final movement three (!) fugatos – in the exposition, the development and the reprise. Which does not at all mean that his Ninth is a dry and academic exercise in composition.