Welcome and thank you for joining us for another recital 'experiment'. The cello is generally considered to be the closest instrument to the human voice, and a program of works derived from song seemed to be a natural fit. While very little of tonight's program was originally composed as cello music, they were all pieces I've been eager to learn and I hope you'll enjoy them as much as we have. I've included the words of the original songs and translations, at the cost of the life of several trees, because I think they add a flavor and dimension that shouldn't be lost.
In the hands of some composers, variations can be tedious gamesmanship but Beethoven had a unique gift for turning the mundane into the profound. Beethoven wrote two sets of variations on Magic Flute themes. The other set, on 'Bei Männern', has a bit more for the cello to do, but we've played it often in the past and I was eager to cover new ground and to give Evelyn a few moments to show what she can do when she doesn't have to worry about covering the cello!
Brahms sonata for violin, op.78, was influenced by the death of Robert and Clara Schumann's beloved son (and Brahms' godson) Felix. The outer movements quote heavily from Brahms' Regenlied (Rainsong), op.59. As seen in the text, is sets a wistful and melancholy mood that pervades the whole sonata. The work was transcribed for cello by Paul Klengel in an arrangement that moved the key to D major and made several significant alterations. I had intended to play the original G major version, with the violin part moved down an octave, but when we began piano rehearsals it became apparent that it simply wouldn't work. The lowered melody line was always in the middle of the piano texture and wasn't feasible in terms of balance or voicing. So I learned the transcription, but whenever possible I've tried to restore the original violin lines, in the new key. Brahms had no reservations about creating and authorizing transcriptions during his lifetime and I find the wistful mood of this sonata too appealing on the cello to avoid the piece simply out of orthodoxy.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed a fantasy on Rossini's famous 'Figaro' aria for Jascha Heifetz. Impressed, Piatigorsky asked for a cello version, but the resulting work for cello had much of the fireworks stripped out. Possibly because I am lacking in common sense, the version I am playing tonight is mainly the violin version, with a few bits taken from the cello version or, at last resort, my fevered imagination.
Korngold is one of my very favorite composers. Perhaps the greatest compositional prodigy ever in music, he won early fame but sought refuge in America after the Anschluss. He found work in the Hollywood studios, where he created what we now think of as the classic 'Hollywood' film-track sound. The lush harmonies of this song are addictive and Korngold re-used it, with a set of variations, as the last two movements of his 1930 Piano Quartet. This transcription for cello and piano comes from my symphony colleague, Kevin Dvorak, who is both a wonderful cellist and a brilliant arranger.
Manuel de Falla's Suite Popular Espagnol is an arrangement of six of a set of seven Popular Spanish Songs, made first for violin and then for cello, and this recital provided a perfect excuse to learn them. I've stolen bits from arrangements of Heifetz and Feuermann and Kochanski, as well as the standard Merechal, and we've opted to follow the original order of the songs.
Violin virtuoso Vasa Prihoda's arrangement of Waltzes from Rosenkavelier was the original impetus behind the theme of this recital. I fell in love with the piece and felt compelled to try to play it on the cello. I knew I was in for a real challenge when a violinist friend who possesses an impressive technique told me he thought this was the hardest piece he had ever played on the violin! While I sometimes question the wisdom of debuting it in front of colleagues (as Kreisler quipped “never play anything for the first time!”) ultimately I think it is important for the students to see that we faculty are also still pushing our limits and still trying to learn. Even impossible challenges bring unexpected lessons.
Jascha Heifetz's classic arrangements from Porgy and Bess need little introduction. Heifetz was a brilliant arranger and understood Gershwin to a tee. What a pity that Gershwin didn't live long enough to write the violin concerto Heifetz had commissioned.
Thank you for joining us this evening. We would like to respectfully dedicate this evening to the memory of recently lost friends David Waters, Sergiu Luca and Tom Littman.