As the programme title suggested, we got two Shakespearean plays adapted for music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. The first was Hamlet, a Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare Op. 67. Tchaikovsky started work on it as early as 1876 but never finished it because it was so difficult. A dozen years later, the idea revived. That's because a Russian noblewoman wanted to stage Act III of Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky was asked to write an "entr'acte" between the theatre Scene (the allegorical murder) and the portrait scene in the Queen's bed chambers where Hamlet kills Polonius and the Ghost appears. But unfortunately or fortunately, the project was later abandoned. However Tchaikovsky had already started and this time, he was determined to finish it. But what he did was a fantasy overture for the play instead. There he depicted the return of Hamlet to Denmark only to find his father murdered by Claudius who usurped the throne and in the process took over his mother as wife. There were also themes relating to his lover Ophelia, represented by an oboe and also another depicting the victorious marches of the troops of Fortinbras across Denmark.
The second piece is a work like a concerto, with the orchestra playing against a cello. It was Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33 also by Tchaikovsky, who wrote it 1876 but didn't bother with it when the cellist Welhem Fitzenhagen, a professor of Cello at the Moscow Conservatoire, asked for permission to make alterations for it. According to the programme notes, Fitzenhagen changed the order of the variations and deleted one altogether and there were many revisions of the cello parts. This is the version we had, not bad as it sounds. We had an excellent guest cellist Johannes Moser, a German-Canadian who won the top prize at the 2002 Tchaikovsky competition. There were huge changes of moods as the music went through a total of 7 variations, sometimes tense, sometimes relaxed, some happier than others and some more exciting than others but as most pieces, it ended with a climax. Moser was obviously pleased with his reception and gave us two encores, one with the orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile and a second, a variation of one of Bach's themes.
After the intermission, we had various scenes from Romeo and Juliet of Prokofiev, a great composer for picturesque and dramatic pieces, including those for the theatre, ballet and cinema.He got a commission to write this music from the Kirov Ballet. But when it was delivered to them in 1935, they said that it was impossible to perform. So Prokofiev sent to the Bolshoi Ballet instead but they said the same thing. And the music was not performed in Russia until 1940! There were scenes depicting the two feuding families the Montagues and the Capulets (Suite No.2 No.1), then Juliet as a young girl (Suite 2 No.2), the Friar's Lawrence (Suite 2 No.3) and a Dance (Suite 2 No 4) and also certain scenes from Suite No.1 like the Masks, (Suite 1 No.5), Romeo and Juliet (Suite 1 No.6 ) and also Tybalt's death (Suite 1 No. 7). But they were not played in that order. It didn't matter. Musical language is not verbal language: it moves us by its rhythms, the intensity or variations in the energy of its sounds, its musical motifs, the contrasts between the high, medium and low notes, the textures of the sound of various instruments, things which are not strictly translatable into verbal terms and vice versa. What matters is whether they move us.
I like the way Caetani whipped up the spirit of the HKPO. The sound was so lively and full of energy. What a good end to a tiring Saturday night!