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Indulge in the music of three great Romantics with French conductor François-Xavier Roth and the San Francisco Symphony. Hear Brahms' Second Symphony, a piece with an airy, bucolic atmosphere—like the lakeside resort where it was written—and the explosive energy of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto performed by French pianist Cédric Tiberghien in his San Francisco Symphony debut. Also on the program, Schumann’s portrait of Lord Byron’s tormented youth, Manfred.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Brahms' Symphony No. 2
At A Glance
Manfred Overture 1848 | 12 mins
Robert Schumann told Franz Liszt that he considered the Manfred Overture to be one of his “most powerful children.” Schumann’s music for Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred stressed the musical medium most deferential to poetry: the melodrama, in which text is recited over an accompanying score. The result is an odd musical hybrid, and of Schumann’s Manfred music only the Overture has found an enduring place in the repertory. In this somber work we find Schumann at his most demonic, setting the scene for Byron’s tortured hero with music of wide fluctuation, passionately designed melodies, and insistent rhythms. LISTEN FOR: This is a marvelously imagined piece of scoring—hear, for example, the economical and stunningly effective use of the trombones. MORE
Piano Concerto No. 1 1830-56 | 20 mins
Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was composed, and re-composed, and revised again and again over a quarter of a century. Liszt could turn out facile piano solos at the drop of a hat but he tended to anguish over those of his works that he envisioned more for posterity, works in the “big” forms of the symphony or the concerto, for example. A single theme dominates the entire First Piano Concerto. As the piece progresses the melody undergoes all manner of transformations. The soloist’s part qualifies as a catalogue of the possibilities available to an ultra-virtuosic pianist such as Liszt. LISTEN FOR: The triangle is spotlighted in the concerto’s scherzo section. Conservative critics were already skeptical of Liszt’s more-than-normal enthusiasm for the percussion section, but thus elevating the triangle left them aghast! MORE
Symphony No. 2 1877 | 40 mins
This symphony is almost invariably described as “sunny,” and that is often how it’s approached. But there are clouds in this sky. Listen to the first three notes in the low strings. From those Brahms generates a miraculously varied first movement. The second movement’s stern opening changes almost immediately into a glorious melody of enormous length and breadth. Throughout, one voice is pensive and searching, the other full of optimism. The Allegretto grazioso that follows is Brahms at his most lighthearted; when considered as a pair with the work’s previous Adagio, it reinforces the concurrence of pensive and joyful voices. The finale’s opening hush erupts suddenly in a shout. At the end, the orchestra embraces a heroic transformation, a sweetly killing reminder that every silver lining masks a cloud. MORE
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor and Jeanette Yu is Editorial Director at the San Francisco Symphony.