French conductor Fabien Gabel leads the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra through a program of Strauss and Dvořák dedicated to the principle forces of nature: death and desire.
In music, these two great forces are often shown in harmony or opposition, like magnets attracting and compelling. Richard Strauss dealt directly with both themes, in his tone poems Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration.
Strauss’ version of Don Juan seduces scores of women as he searches for femininity’s ideal, and when he can’t find it he wills death to come to him. The piece conjures all the swagger and mortification that this scenario suggests, with some magisterial parts for the horns and beautifully sensual woodwinds.
Death and Transfiguration opens with a long, mournful largo evoking the sick artist, slowly fading, before plunging into a violent and clamorous battle between the forces of life and death. The transfiguration, when it comes, is a glorious and deeply moving release.
To complete this grand meditation is Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, played by talented German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. Dedicated in part, to the composer’s dying sister-in-law, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is a piece brimming with yearning and the tenderness that accompanies impending loss.
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