Yuri Temirkanov conducts Mussorgsky and Elgar

Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

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Program notes

At first glance, Mussorgsky and Elgar might seem to have had little in common. But these two singular musicians—the Russian pianist of the "The Balakirev Circle" and the sensational British romantic—both belong to an atypical group of self-taught composers, and their music is intriguingly combined in this special concert.

The story behind Pictures at an Exhibition began in early 1874, when an exhibition of drawings was organized in memory of Viktor Hartmann, architect and friend of the composer. Inspired by the exhibition, Mussorgsky began to imagine a musical work where visions alternate with Hartmann’s pictorial motifs: "Sounds and ideas are filling the air around me, I feast on them to bursting, and I hardly have time to put them to paper.” Juxtaposing numerous themes interconnected by the famous "Promenade" motif, Pictures at an Exhibition is a work of incredible size. Composed originally for piano, Ravel later created a superb orchestration of the work, which is performed here.

Twenty-five years later, in 1899, Elgar composes his own masterpiece: Enigma Variations. Each variation is a musical portrait, dedicated by initials or by pseudonym to a friend or a parent; the work is addressed, "to my friends who are portrayed here". Interwoven into each variation is the work’s overarching musical theme, a familiar melody whose exact identity remains unknown. Is it the British hymn God Save the Queen, or Auld Lang Syne transposed into minor mode, or even the Mozart Prague Symphony? The composer never confirmed any of these rumors.

With elegance and subtlety, Yuri Temirkanov and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra (which he has conducted since 1988) interpret these two mysterious works.

A closer look: featured composers

Further listening: featured works

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