The Breckenridge Music Festival will present a BMF Tuesday Series concert titled “A Pair of Pianos, Rachmaninoff & Brahms,” on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The evening’s performance will highlight works by the composers Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The evening opens with Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52a, “Love-Song Waltzes.” Guest pianist Robin Sutherland will perform with festival pianist Michael Linville. Because of the depth of Brahms’ powerful symphonies and concertos, it is easy to forget that his greatest energy as a composer was invested in writing music to words. He scored hundreds of songs, volumes of choral work, canons, motets and at least a hundred folk song arrangements, including the Volks-Kinderlieder he dedicated to the children of Clara and Robert Schumann.
Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52, was written in 1869 for voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and piano four-hands. It should be noted that the term “waltz” is a genre title, apart from style. Strange as it may seem, not all waltzes are for dancing, and these alluring songs by Brahms are of the singing variety. Brahms conceived them to be sung with folk-styled gusto. The tuneful songs were so successful that Brahms transcribed them all in 1874 for piano four-hands without voices. He also performed them at informal gatherings with Clara Schumann, a life-long friend, the widow of Brahms’ mentor Robert Schumann and one of the finest pianists in Europe in her own right.
About the musicians
Linville has established a rich and varied professional life as a pianist, percussionist, harpist, conductor, arranger and educator. As the associate dean for chamber music at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida, Linville curates three different concert series as part of the symphony’s season, programming repertoire and coaching its fellows. As a concert pianist, Linville has performed with NWS, the San Francisco Symphony, the Breckenridge Festival Orchestra and regional orchestras around the United States.
Born in Denver, pianist Sutherland grew up in Greeley, entering the studio of Dr. Rita Hutcherson, head of the piano department of what was then Colorado State College, at the age of 4. As a boy, another faculty member, Dr. Kenneth Evans, founder of the BMF, befriended him. This led to many musical experiences, including the first of many engagements with the Breckenridge Music Festival. Sutherland is an alumnus of the Aspen Music School and Festival, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the University of Hawaii and Juilliard.
Sutherland will also be performing Brahms’ Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 40. As a young man, Brahms learned to play the Waldhorn (hunting horn), a centuries-old instrument without valves, from his father. Although valved horns were already in use in 1865, Brahms specified the Waldhorn as his choice, believing the sound of natural harmonics would blend best with the piano and violin. However, modern instruments are made so well that fine players today readily achieve with valved instruments the timbres Brahms preferred. Opus 40 begins with two lovely themes in alteration. The tunes are introduced by the violin and replied to by the bucolic horn with lush harmonies in the piano. Rather than the traditional sonata form, Brahms provides a rhapsodic narrative throughout.
The concert comes to a close with Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17. Suite No. 2 was composed simultaneously with Rachmaninoff’s immensely popular second piano concerto. Completed in 1901 and dedicated to the composer’s friend Alexander Goldenweiser, the suite offers four movements of alluring themes cast over lush, Russian harmonies, with equal virtuoso roles for the duo pianists. Although there are no direct quotations, listeners may notice a distinct kinship with the poetic reach of Concerto No.2, Op.18.
Biographer Barrie Martyn writes, “The suite quickly became a cornerstone of the two-piano repertoire; not only is it musically rich but it is great fun to play, and the interplay between the two soloists is a special delight.”