Dust of tension

Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 4 June; Mozart: Overture to Idomeneo re di Creda, K. 366, Danzi: Sinfonia concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra in B flat Major, Op 41, Beethoven: Symphony no. 4 in B flat Major, Op.60; Cairo Symphony Orchestra, soloists: Ines Abdel Daim (flute) and Mohamed Hamdy (clarinet), conductor: Ahmed El Saedi.

Published on 9 June 2011 in Al Ahram Weekly

The concert that took place on 4 June at the Cairo Opera House Mian Hall was one of those rare evenings offering the audience a balanced diet of programming. The Cairo Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Ahmed El Saedi, opened the evening with the Overture to Idomeneo re di Creda, K. 366, widely considered to be Mozart’s first mature opera. There was a significant amount of tension emanating from the orchestra, which by the time that the overture ended, mixed musical accomplishment with emotional relief.

Following was S infonia concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra in B flat Major, Op 41 by Franz Ignaz Danzi, which featured two soloists: Ines Abdel Daim (flute) and Mohamed Hamdy (clarinet).

Franz Danzi (1763 –1826) was a German cellist and composer. It is worth mentioning that his father, the noted Italian cellist Innocenz Danzi, was particularly praised by Mozart for his playing at the premiere of Idomeneo in 1781. Franz Danzi did not leave behind a large opus and his Sinfonia concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra is not an often performed composition. Accordingly, for the Egyptian audience, it was a wonderful opportunity to make the acquaintance of the composer and have a taste of his radiant music — an appropriate treat following Idomeneo.

The opening movement (Allegro moderato) of the Sinfonia concertante begins with short introduction on strings, but before you know it the clarinet soloist is playing a theme soon to be repeated by flute. Throughout the whole movement both instruments remain in a lovely dialogue, exchanging phrases and actively responding to each other. The second (Larghetto) and third (Polonaise allegretto) movements are shorter. Performed well, the composition becomes an engaging musical conversation. The charming character of the Sinfonia and continuously intertwined phrases are among the most interesting elements of the performance.

Both Ines Abdel Daim and Mohamed Hamdy perform frequently at the Cairo Opera House. On this occasion Abdel-Daim demonstrated her incredible versatility — established in dozens of masterful solos, international honours and several prizes. Equally, Hamdy gave numerous solo and chamber concerts with many Egyptian and European orchestras.

Following Danzi’s positive spirit, Beethoven’s Symphony no 4 was the perfect main course of the evening; it requires special.

Mastery of the musical craft, profound expression, powerful personality and an unmatched personal style are but a few of the superlatives with which Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 –1827) can be described. He is one of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven was conscious of his responsibility for each work, and each has its own character and its unique content; each surprises and endears, reassuring us further of the genius that produced it.

Symphony no 4, composed in the summer of 1806 and premiered in 1807, is like a middle, forgotten child, coming between two remarkable works: Eroica (Symphony no. 3) and the much- admired no. 5. In a famous quote, Robert Schumann described the 4th to be “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse gods.” In spite of this uncomfortable positioning between two giants, the symphony does not lack for innovation; it has extremely expressive power which develops in the course of its unfolding.

The opening Adagio from the first movement begins with a smooth flute, bassoon, clarinet and horn legato playing against the bows of the violins, and a brief, gentle pizzicato which returns throughout. The Adagio of the first movement recalls the openings of Symphonies no. 1 and 2, where it has an introductory role before Allegro con brio begins. It is worth noting that Eroica (Symphony no. 3) opens directly with a strong Allegro con brio. In Symphony no. 4, the Adagio continues over several bars setting a thoughtful mood, then Allegro vivace starts with its beautiful rich harmony, drawing listeners into the refreshing character of the music dominating the first, third and fourth movements.

In this symphony, vivacity and ecstatic outbursts have a particular charm that overwhelms the listener. The first movement enslaves us in a medley of contrasting energies. Without being forceful, the opposite poles find their way into the listener’s soul: vivid passages are counterbalanced by very brief emotional releases. They are elegant; they add a particular charm to numerous passages. The second movement (Andante) is a true poem in which the composer holds us strongly in his grip; the third movement (Allegro vivace), an expanisve rustic scherzo, like the fast current of a stream; it takes us back to a series of bouncing and playful mood shifts.

The fourth movement (Minuetto) is a voyage through a range of orchestral colours where grace is kept despite the highest levels of energy. Beethoven seems at ease playing with our emotions and we remain helpless in the grasp of his musical power, which he keeps confirming all the way to the final heart-rending slams of the last bars.

One of the keys to a successful performance of Beethoven’s 4th lies in the ability to transfer the composer’s unprecedented energy without overstating his musical intentions. Ahmed El Saedi is a conductor with an enormous knowledge and an impressive understanding of music. His confidence is supported by years of experience and it sets free the most refined details of Beethoven’s language.

On 4 June, we waited for the Cairo Symphony Orchestra to transport us through moving shifts between black and white. El Saedi proposed an extreme interpretation of the symphony, challenging its carefree character. Where Beethoven fills the contrasting edges with smooth elegance, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra underscored the harsh cracks between them. Starting with Allegro vivace, from the first movement, harsh bows replaced the joyful energy with razor sharp syllables; this language became predominant all through the evening. The symphony was soaked in gravity and an unnecessary anxiety, surfacing especially in the first and third movement. The vital freshness that bounces from the bars was therefore needlessly marred by a continuous struggle, emotionally draining for orchestra and listeners alike.

It was in the second movement that the conductor took a more relaxed approach, managing to release a considerable amount of soothing music. Violins paved the way to a remarkable flute, with a soloist who shone on several other occasions during the evening and especially in the second movement. As well as the musicians coped with the composition, the horns were far from perfect.

Possibly, in the fourth movement, the positive spirit of Beethoven surfaced from within a stormy atmosphere. The last few words of the Beethoven are particularly strong, as if the composer wishes to underline over and over again his musical power which has survived for centuries and will always humble us before its greatness.

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