By Joseph E. Morgan
On March 20th the Nashville Symphony presented André Watts playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, along with two pieces of compositional admiration: Johannes Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber.
Brahms, who was always interested in music history, and concerned with his own position in it, composed his Variations music on a theme that appears in the second movement of Haydn’s first Divertimento in B flat, titled “Chorale St. Antonio.” While Haydn’s theme has since been discovered to have been derived from and old chant, Brahms was probably most interested in the piece for its classical symmetrical and rhythmic clarity – aspects which he undermines with his own Romantic language at nearly every turn. The NSO brought out the clarity of Brahms’ orchestral colors and striking rhythmic complexity with a noble interpretation leading to an excellent final movement.
Hindemith’s Metamorphosis was written in 1943 just after the composer had first immigrated to the United States. He composed this piece with the virtuosity of the North American Orchestras he found here in mind, and took as its material themes that Carl Maria von Weber had written for a staging of Carlo Gozzi’s play Turandot (the same play that would later inspire Puccini). Just as Brahms had re-contextualized Haydn into the Romantic era, Hindemith brought Weber into the 20th century with striking harmonic reinvention, elicited beautifully by Maestro Guerrero’s nuanced balance.
Finally, world famous virtuoso pianist André Watts took the stage and delivered an amazing rendition of the Rachmaninoff. Despite the theatrics—grunting, hands flying from the keyboard, feet in the air–Watt’s interpretation was grand, with poise and gravitas. At the end the audience literally roared in appreciation.