Gabrieli / Maderna / Strauss / Holst
Dennis Russell Davies is an in-demand pianist and conductor with Julliard School and decades of experience. At Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, he leads the orchestra and choir through three monumental works and puts his individual touch on them, elevating them to a unique collective musical experience. Even though the three programme items span very different musical periods, Dennis Russell Davies brings them together into a remarkable tonal amalgam that will stay with audiences long after the last note has faded away.
The performance begins with In Ecclesiis, a sacred work for choir and orchestra by Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. An eminent representative of the Venetian School, he was instrumental in bringing about the stylistic shift from Renaissance to Baroque between the 16th and 17th centuries. In Ecclesiis is Gabrieli’s most popular standalone work. It impresses with its musical dramatics, exemplified by carefully placed dissonances, transition notes, and outlandish harmonies that grab the audience’s attention and do not let go until the end. Modern performances rely on the arrangement of Bruno Maderna, himself an innovative composer and conductor who left a bright trail in 20th-century neoclassical music.
Next in line is the tone poem Death and Transfiguration, Op 24 by Richard Strauss, a moving account of an artist’s lifetime and passing. The work premiered at the Eisenach Festival in Germany on 21 June 1890. Death and Transfiguration is structured in four parts that depict the dying man’s struggle to cling on to life, followed by his life retrospective and eventual transfiguration into heaven. Critics have described the work as one of Richard Strauss’s most carefully constructed compositions, with an emotional charge that is hard to match.
The Planets, Op 32 a seven-movement orchestral suite by Gustav Holst, rounds off the bill. A fantastic representation of our solar system’s planets and their supposed astrological characters. The premiere at the Queen’s Hall on 29 September 1918 in London was a riot. Several motifs, particularly ‘Mars’ with its ominous diminished-fifth calling card, quickly crossed over into popular culture. The mostly instrumental suite finished with Neptune, the Mystic, where a wordless female choir blends into the musical texture, bringing The Planets and the whole performance at Gran Teatro La Fenice under Dennis Russell Davies’s expert guidance to a mesmerising conclusion.