St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Schéhérazade: French and Russian

Soloist: Yulia Matochkina
The Mariinsky Orchestra
Conductor: Christian Knapp

Maurice Ravel
Shéhérazade, song cycle

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Symphonic suite Scheherazade, Op. 35

The programme for the evening comprises two Schéhérazades by two composers, one French and one Russian, both of whom turned to the mystical Orient in their work on several occasions.

France became acquainted with the oriental through Russian music – by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev... "The sweetness of an era at its end! What author could resist? The Orient hovered in the very air. Through Bakst, through Rimsky-Korsakov, through Dr Mardrus who translated Tales of the Arabian Nights," the poet Tristan Klingsor recalled of the Paris of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries many years later and whose verse was used by Ravel to compose his Schéhérazade. The provocative Wagnerian name was, of course, a pseudonym: his real name was Léon Leclère. Klingsor was one of Ravel's close friends, his brother-in-arms in a group of young and audacious musicians and men of letters who referred to themselves, in the manner of street hooligans of the time, as "apaches". For his vocal and orchestral cycle, which remained his one and only foray into the genre, Ravel selected three poems by Klingsor from more than the hundred that comprised an anthology. The poet may not have been entirely precise in his recollections – Rimsky-Korsakov's Schéhérazade was, at the time, known in Paris merely for its music, while the Fokine – Benois – Bakst ballet was only to appear several years afterwards, in 1910 – but with Ravel there truly reigns the very same marvellous languor as with his Russian predecessors. He does not, however, in any way imitate them – in the refined instrumentation with the indispensable solos of the wind instruments, in the glimmering harmonies and in the vocal role, almost resembling speech, one can plainly make out the maestro's style.

If for Ravel Schéhérazade was to be one of his first major successes, then Rimsky-Korsakov composed his famous suite when he was already in his mature creative period. The scale of the suite is incomparably greater than that of Ravel's cycle, but the Russian Schéhérazade speaks without words – the dramatic narrative is related by the orchestra alone. The composer himself appealed to audiences not to seek any specific plot within his music and wished "merely to steer the imagination of the listener somewhat... by presenting concepts that are more detailed and private to the will and mood of each of us."

Age category 6+

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