Tue 27 October 2020
Leeds Town Hall, Leeds Town Hall
Leeds International Chamber Season 2020/21
Artistic Director – David Waterman
Steven Isserlis – cello
Connie Shih – piano
Saint-Saëns - Sonata No 1: original last movement
Thomas Adès - Lieux Retrouves Listen
Chaminade - Sommeil d’enfant Listen
Fauré - Berceuse Listen
Franck – Cello sonata Listen
i Allegretto ben moderato
iii Ben moderato: Recitativo-Fantasia
iv Allegretto poco mosso
Programme duration approximately 75 mins. Please note there will be no interval.
We're so happy to be able to return to Leeds, during this strangest of times - it will be an oasis of sanity for us! And the programme is something of a dream one for both Connie and myself, ranging as it does from a completely unknown stray movement by Saint-Saens, through Thomas Ades’ modern masterwork Lieux Retrouves (which Connie and I have performed together, I’d estimate, some 40 times) to Franck’s glorious sonata, designated by the composer as being ‘for piano with violin or cello’. It is a programme of music that we both love deeply, and we look forward very much to sharing it with the uniquely warm audience in Leeds.
- Steven Isserlis
Please feel free to access programme notes on your mobile phones during the performance.
Saint-Saëns - Sonata No 1 Op 35: original last movement - 1872
Camille Saint-Saëns was a prodigal Parisian composer. His perfect pitch was discovered aged just two, and in the same year he took his first piano lessons. He would make his official public debut in concert aged ten, performing piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven. There began the long and successful career of a fascinating French character.
He was organist at La Madeleine in Paris for twenty years, after which he continued to perform and compose, as well as teaching for a short while at the Paris Conservatoire where he would have a lasting impression on Gabriel Fauré. Though he encouraged the development of students and their composing, he conflicted with the emerging impressionist school of music. By the late eighteen hundreds he was travelling the world and composing all the while. Even if now in France his music was perceived to be conservative, in England and the US he was seen as the greatest French living composer.
Saint-Saëns wrote chamber music, symphonies, operas, sacred and secular choral music, songs and of course solo piano works. Performers today still comment on how well he writes parts for different instruments. His first cello sonata is a dark and turbulent work written after the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, marrying together his nationalism and disappointment at the outcome.
Though it is underperformed today it was significant at the time, being one of the first works from his newly-founded Société Nationale de Musique. According to fellow organist Charles-Marie Widor, when Saint-Saëns asked his mother what she thought of the sonata after a successful first outing, Mme Saint-Saëns replied that she liked the first two movements but not the finale! After just a few days Saint-Saëns had composed a new final movement. Though the newer finale is the more widely performed version, today we will hear the lesser-known, but no less great, original.
© Florence Fawcett
Thomas Adès (b1971)
Lieux retrouvés (rediscovered places)
The ‘rediscovered places’ of Thomas Adès’ 2009 work for cello and piano contrast the world of nature - water, mountains, fields - with a hectic cityscape. Les eaux flow through varying degrees of turbulence: La montagne suggests a strenuous ascent to rarefield heights: Les champs embodies a serene evenness evocative of an expansive open space: and La ville is a virtuosic ‘cancan macabre’, abrasively recreating a transgressive night-life that is dark and down to earth.
That all four movements involve rediscovery could indicate connections with the composer’s earlier evocation of French painters and composers - especially Couperin. But there is also a sense of renewing acquaintance with contemporary techniques, as set out in the flowing pattern-making at the start of Les eaux, from which a complex counterpoint with intense cross-rhythms emerges that reinforces the inseparability of dramatic and lyrical in Adès’ style. Such imitative interaction between cello and piano is less impressionistically deployed in La montagne, and although the stressful exhilaration of this climb is cut short by an eerie depiction of an almost airless summit, the piece ends with a brusque fall to earth. By contrast, the gradual disappearance of Les Champs into the highest registers of both instruments, without a sudden cadential cut-off, hints at the allusive, troubled idylls of Adès’ earlier evocations of Arcadiana (Arcadiana for string quartet): and La ville sits well alongside the manic dance routines of Arcadiana’s ‘tango mortale’.
Arnold Whittall © 2020
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Sommeil d'Enfant - 1903
Cécile Chaminade was a Parisian pianist and composer who studied unofficially at the Paris Conservatoire as her father disapproved of her musical pursuits. She composed prolifically, writing more than four hundred and eighty works. Though her music was always well received, in the late eighteen hundreds her characteristic beautifully melodious work was not as favoured in Paris as the developing new French impressionist school. Official entry to the Paris Conservatoire was also an introduction and acceptance on the musical scene, something which Chaminade’s career was not able to profit from. Her work was sometimes critiqued unfairly with gender prejudice, characteristics in her work criticised for being ‘feminine’ or ‘too masculine’. Still, like Saint-Saens her music continued to be adored in America and Britain, Queen Victoria being one of her most fervent fans. Chaminade toured the world performing and writing, and in 1913 she became the first female composer to be awarded the Légion d'Honneur. Fellow composer Ambroise Thomas said “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman."
Sommeil d’Enfant, or child’s slumber, is a delightful miniature setting of Amélie de Wailly’s poem of the same name. In it, a mother watches her child sleep, singing to him adoringly the ode of love that her heart weaves him. This cello arrangement is equally lyrical, a true example of her melodic genius that was so loved.
© Florence Fawcett
Fauré’s tender and graceful Berceuse was written around 1879 and was originally scored for solo violin and piano. It is dedicated to Hélène Depret, who, along with her husband, had introduced Fauré to a number of influential classical music people at the start of his career. The composer himself later published an arrangement for violin and orchestra and over the years the piece’s popularity has seen it arranged for a great multitude of instruments and instrumental combinations.
The Belgian violinist Ovide Musin gave the premiere at the Société Nationale de Musique in 1880 with the composer at the piano.
Fauré’s Berceuse, in the key of D major, follows the style established by Chopin whose berceuse, or cradle-song, of 1843-44 was the first to become well-known. The form is characterised by soft dynamics, a compound time signature (each beat in the bar divides into three) and a rocking accompaniment.
According to French author Jean-Michael Nectoux, Fauré didn’t place any great significance on the Berceuse, in fact in response to the work some people dubbed him a mere ‘salon composer’. There was a silver-lining however; the piece brought Fauré to the attention of publisher Julien Hamelle who went on to publish the composer’s music from 1880-1900.
© Katie Pearce
César Franck (1822-90)
Violin Sonata in A major
Allegretto ben moderato
Recitativo-Fantasia (ben moderato)
Allegretto poco mosso
César Franck was one of music's late developers, producing nearly all his greatest works during his last ten years. His tyrannical, exploitative father had such inflated ambition for the young César to become a virtuoso pianist that Leopold Mozart appears by comparison a model of restraint. Aged 25 Franck took up the first of a succession of appointments as an organist. He also became a revered teacher, known as “Père Franck”, his pupils including d'Indy, Chausson, Duparc and Vierne. Musicologist Léon Vallas wrote of Franck's “simple, trusting nature”. In 1872 he was appointed professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire - but his missionary preoccupation was the redemption of French music from its prevailing frivolity. (Fortunately, such high-mindedness did not prevent his close friendship with that personification of joie-de-vivre, Emmanuel Chabrier). Franck's infatuation with his brilliant pupil Augusta Holmès – one is reminded of Janáček's obsession with Kamila Stösslová and its equally potent effect on his creative powers - may well have inspired his late piano quintet, violin sonata and string quartet. The large-scale religious compositions Madame Franck urged her husband to produce proved to be largely uninspired so we should be specially thankful that he was moved to compose these chamber works.
Franck composed his only violin sonata (dating from 1886, a year after he had been made a Chevalier de Légion d'honneur) as a wedding present for his fellow Liègeois, the virtuoso violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. In this sonata Franck achieves a remarkable balance between passionate and dramatic elements and a freshness and radiance - all expressed with his typically disarming emotional directness. Here the composer employs his favoured cyclic form in a very individual manner, creating various thematic cross-references between movements. The melodic material of the preludial first movement, subtly anticipated by the piano, is germinal. As in several of Franck's major works, major and minor thirds are recurring features, from the initial phrases of the violin part onwards. The turbulent second movement, with its virtuosic piano part, is the most fiery music Franck ever wrote, while also accommodating strong emotional contrasts and a still centre (Quasi lento). Thus we find not only the directions passionato, fuocoso, molto fuocoso, but also molto dolce and dolcissimo espressivo. The Recitativo-Fantasia begins in rhapsodic, improvisatory manner, but in the latter half of this fascinating and original movement a serene melody (dolcissimo) alternates with an intense theme marked dramatico. Again the expressive and dynamic ranges are enormous.
The finale movement begins with a melody of radiant innocence treated in canon – a modest beauty making a quiet entrance. In the contrasting episodes Franck recalls themes from the second and third movements, each one presented in a new light. Eugène Ysaÿe toured widely with the sonata and in time the work became a standard-bearer not only for Franck himself but also for French chamber music in general.
This popular sonata has been arranged and transcribed for many combinations of instruments, the most frequently performed being for cello, viola or flute. Though perhaps because it was one of the earlier arrangements, the cello and piano version is the only alternative that Franck approved.
© Philip Borg-Wheeler
Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a uniquely varied and distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster.
As a concerto soloist he appears with many of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, including the Berlin Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra Washington, London Philharmonic and Zurich Tonhalle orchestras, He gives recitals every season in major musical centres, and plays with many of the world’s foremost chamber orchestras, including the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Australian, Mahler, Norwegian, Scottish, Zurich and St Paul Chamber Orchestras, as well as period-instrument ensembles such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Unusually, he also directs chamber orchestras from the cello.
He works with many contemporary composers and regularly premieres new works on the international concert stage.
Recent performing highlights include his debut with Dresden Staatskapelle, and as Artist-in-Residence with Kammerakademie Potsdam. On 21 June 2019 Steven performed with his close friend Radu Lupu at Lupu’s final-ever concert with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, where Steven directed pieces including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A, K488, with Lupu as soloist.
As a chamber musician, he has curated series for many of the world’s most famous festivals and venues, including the Wigmore Hall, the 92nd St Y in New York, and the Edinburgh, Verbier and Salzburg Festivals.
On his 60th Birthday on 19 December 2018, Steven was joined by a group of his closest musical friends Radu Lupu (in a rare guest appearance), Sir András Schiff, Connie Shih, Ferenc Rados, Joshua Bell, and Sir Simon Keenlyside, both performing with and for him. Isserlis also performed the world premiere of For Steven Isserlis 60, composed especially for him by Márta and György Kurtág. The concert was preceded with favourite literary readings by actor Gabriel Woolf.
The Canadian pianist, Connie Shih, is repeatedly considered to be one of Canada’s most outstanding artists. In 1993 she was awarded the Sylva Gelber Award for most outstanding classical artist under age 30. At the age of nine, she made her orchestral debut with Mendelssohn's first Piano Concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. At the age of twelve, she was the youngest ever protégé of Gyorgy Sebok, and then continued her studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Claude Frank, himself a protégé of Arthur Schnabel. Later studies were undertaken with Fou Tsong in Europe.
As soloist, she has appeared extensively with orchestras throughout Canada, the USA and Europe. In a solo recital setting, she has made countless appearances in Canada, the USA, Iceland, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan and China. Connie has given chamber music performances with many world-renowned musicians. To critical acclaim, she appears regularly in recital with cellist Steven Isserlis. Including chamber music appearances at the Wigmore and Carnegie Halls, she performs at the prestigious Bath Music Festival, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, Weill Hall (NY), and at the Kronberg Festival. Her collaborations have included Maxim Vengerov, Tabea Zimmerman, and Isabelle Faust.
Connie's performances are frequently broadcast via television and radio on CBC (Canada), BBC, SWR, NDR, and WDR (Germany) as well as on other various television and radio stations in North America and Europe. She is on faculty at the Casalmaggiore Festival in Italy.
£27.50, £25, £21, £16
Under 18s/full-time students/unwaged: 50% off
(prices include 10% booking fee)
Due to limited capacity and current social distancing measures, advance booking is required. We regret that booking tickets on the door is not currently an option.