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15. Brahms's Third Symphony and Dvorak's Cello Concerto

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), a very serious German composer looking back to the Classical Period rather than conforming to the Romanticism, especially the prevailing Wagnerian style of music in the very period of his life, composed a total of four symphonies which are all masterpieces and frequently performed symphonies in nowadays concerts. Brahms, being awed by the seemingly unsurpassable overwhelming symphonies of the giant Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), completed his First Symphony late until he was 43 years old with a span of composing period over 21 years. His later three symphonies, nevertheless, were composed more quickly in rather easy and smooth circumstances.

His Third Symphony in F Major, Op.90, completed in the age of 50, is very unique and special in that it is ultimately created in a new personal style that could not possibly be found in any other composers' works. Although those part of pro-Wagnerite audience loudly hissed in the end of the first night performance of this symphony, the marked enthusiasm of the major part of the audience indicated how successful this symphony was. Robert Schumann's wife, Clara Schumann, who was an ardent supporter of Bramhs, declared after her first hearing of the Third Symphony, "What a harmonious mood pervades the whole! All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart, each one a jewel!"

The first movement, Allegro con brio, is energetic and full of passion. The second "Andante" movement, though simple in structure, is lyrical just like a dream. The following words apparently spoken by a disinterested member of the audience can show what profound effect had been produced deep in his mind: "We had experienced a sensation that the Heavens were opening up and that within the space of a few bars were revealed the most profound thoughts that music can express." The third movement, instead of written in the form of a scherzo, is a rather romantic and sentimental piece of music. The final fourth "Allegro" movement returns to a high and energetic spirit, which is slowly transformed into peaceful notes and the symphony ends gradually to total tranquillity.

Brahms's Third Symphony was one of the two major works performed in the concert of Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on April 24, 2009 at Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, the other major work performed being Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op.104. The concert began with Brahms's Tragic Overture, Op.81. The Orchestra's performance under Edo de Waart, the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Orchestra, as usual in my good expectation, was outstanding and successful.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), probably the most famous Czech composer whose talent was highly appreciated by Brahms. Completed in 1895 when he was 54 years old, the greatness of the Cello Concerto was immediately recognised by Brahms who declared, "If I had known it was possible to write a cello concerto of this quality I would have written one long before." Nowadays, this is undoubtedly the most popular cello concerto, which and Elgar's Cello Concerto together are two of my favourite cello concertos. The cello soloist in this night's concert was Richard Bamping, the Principal Cellist of the Orchestra, who stepped in for the performance to replace the originally scheduled cellist Truls Mork who could not appear owing to illness. The conductor, once again, was Edo de Waart.

The concerto as a whole is warm and delightful. The many charming melodies of the solo cello and the orchestra are just breathtaking. The soloist Richard Bamping's sophistication in the manipulation of the cello awed almost every audience, who burst into enthusiastic applause as the concerto ended. To reply to the appeal for an encore he played a short piece of cello music, which brought the concert to the ultimate end.

(Written on May 10, 2009)