Teatro alla Scala
FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Joana Carneiro : conductor
RTÉ Philharmonic Choir
chorus master: Mark Hindley
Christopher Ainslie : countertenor
Kai Rüütel : mezzo-soprano
Huw Montague Rendall : baritone
Chichester Psalms / 19’
Sea Pictures / 23’
Requiem / 45’
2018 marks the centenary of the birth of the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, a towering figure of American music in the 20th century. Our tribute includes his own bracing Chichester Psalms, Elgar’s haunting Sea Pictures and Duruflé’s exquisite Requiem with young Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro – a ‘charismatic, dynamic figure on the podium’ (San Jose Mercury News) taking the helm of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and RTÉ Philharmonic Choir.
A charismatic figure who embraced classical music and the Broadway musical with equal aplomb, Leonard Bernstein produced work in virtually every genre and has been described as ‘the Peter Pan of music’ by the New York Times and by fellow composer Ned Rorem as ‘the epitome of glamour combined with quality’. Composed in 1965, Chichester Psalms sets six Psalms in part or whole and although sung in Hebrew, it revels in the bravura writing he employed in his music for Broadway (including some music originally written for West Side Story but never used). It alternates ebullient, jazz-accented declarations of belief with moments of often gripping blues-infused drama suggesting a crisis of faith and sumptuously lyrical passages that speak of a humbling connection with the divine.
Composed immediately after his Enigma Variations, Elgar’s Sea Pictures cemented the composer’s position as England’s unofficial music laureate. Curiously, at its premiere in the 1899 Norwich Festival, soprano Clara Butt appeared costumed as a mermaid – surely an unnecessary, certainly an idiosyncratic, aside on the work’s title. The following year Richard Strauss, on hearing The Dream of Gerontius, would hail Elgar as “the first English progressivist”. Arguably, the seeds had been sown in Sea Pictures, settings of five poems by various authors (including one by his wife and another by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) that seem to share a yearning for the oblivion promised by the watery depths of the sea. The music is characteristic Elgar: rich orchestrations lit up by baleful lyricism and a refined but heartfelt passion that is wholly involving.
A memorial for his father, Duruflé’s Requiem was completed in 1947 and takes the Gregorian plainchant Mass for the Dead (with significant changes and substitutions) as its inspiration. He wanted, he said, ‘to reconcile as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm… with the exigencies of modern meter’. In that, he succeeded with elegant gracefulness. It’s a work distinguished by a becoming sense of tenderness, a stillness of prayerful intensity and an accent on the promise of redemption and peace.