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June 2013
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Brahms at the Brink

Semyon Bychkov with Marielle Labeque, photo by Klaus Barisch

Semyon Bychkov with Marielle Labeque, photo by Klaus Barisch

Hear Brahms, Strauss and Poulenc on Sunday’s CSO broadcast at 1:00 PM

Johannes Brahms was by all accounts a private man. He refrained from writing autobiographical music, which makes the one time he labeled a movement “mesto” (meaning “sad” in Italian), following the death of his mother, a preciously revealing moment to musicians. For biographer Jan Swafford, a picture of Brahms could only be compiled by absorbing every available detail about his life and music. Swafford notes that Brahms did live to see the rising tide of anti-Semitism and unchecked nationalism around his adopted home of Vienna; as well as great advances in the technology of warfare:

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Brahms Biographer Jan Swafford

Brahms Biographer Jan Swafford

In contrast to the Brahms’ 4th, which will be led by David Robertson, Semyon Bychkov conducts the luscious, German Romantic, and auto-biographical Ein Heldendleben, A Hero’s Tale by Richard Strauss, a work completed in 1898. Although these works couldn’t be more opposite in terms of intent and aesthetic, they were written only thirteen years apart, underscoring the complexities of fin de siècle Europe.

The third work on the program, also conducted by Bychkov, features the French piano-playing sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque in Francis Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto; a work written in 1932. In this concerto Poulenc eschews the zealous, over-blown Romanticism of the Strauss, favoring a simpler, and playfully irreverent style.


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