This concert is framed by the works of two very different French composers- Gabriel Fauré, with his pastel musical colors and mostly introverted expression, and Georges Bizet, with his red-blooded operatic style. Fauré’s Dolly Suite is a gathering of piano duet pieces the composer gave on birthdays and other occasions during the late 1890’s to Dolly, the daughter of his mistress Emma Bardac. The movement titles are child-like but the music isn’t. Meltingly beautiful melodic lines spin out over lush harmonies, even in the two playful waltz-like movements. The final movement connects Fauré to many other French composers (including Bizet) who made Spanish dance rhythms part of their music. I first heard the orchestral version of this infrequently performed suite back in the mid 1970’s and didn’t realize at the time that Dolly herself was still alive (she died in 1985).
Max Bruch was frustrated later in life that his first Violin Concerto, written in 1866, continued to eclipse the popularity of anything he wrote later. I think Bruch hit on the perfect balance between solo virtuosity and memorable melodies, between the focus on the orchestra and on the soloist, and between the minor-key turbulence of the first movement, the serene lyricism of the second, and the fresh major-key exuberance of the third, and perhaps never hit that sweet spot again.
When we engaged our violin soloist for this performance, Randall Goosby, he was fresh off his 2018 success in the Sphinx Competition, but in the two Covid-delayed years since, his career has taken off and he is now in demand internationally. I’m grateful that we’re still able to present him this season.
Bizet died believing Carmen to be a failure, but it eventually enjoyed so much success that his friend Ernest Guiraud compiled several orchestral suites from the opera. I’m not a fan of “opera without words,” but luckily Bizet composed many instrumental preludes, interludes, and occasional pieces that are part of the Carmen. In tonight’s selection, the only movement that was originally a vocal solo number is the “Séguedille,” where the low register of the oboe stands in for the sultry voice of Carmen. The whole suite is full of memorable tunes and colorful orchestration, the progressively accelerating “Danse Bohême” bringing it to a whirlwind finish.
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Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.