Once again, the BSO returns to Exeter Cathedral for an atmospheric season finale. Scheherazade consisted of “separate, unconnected episodes and pictures” as Rimsky-Korsakov himself put it, from The Arabian Nights: snapshots, in other words, of a world he never knew. It is a triumph of imagination over experience; a feast of sumptuous colours and brilliant instrumental effect by the man who literally wrote the book on orchestration. Much of this brilliance is achieved by continuously dotting the score with passages for solo instruments. The suite is bound together by a recurring motif, a bewitching melody sung by the solo violin: the voice of Scheherazade herself. It quickly became a favourite Romantic showpiece and a landmark in the history of descriptive music. Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole was an instant hit from its premiere in 1875 with Pablo de Sarasate.
Tchaikovsky loved it, writing “It is so fresh and light, and contains piquant rhythms and melodies which are beautifully harmonised.” Despite its name, it is a true concerto in which the soloist is called upon to display significant feats of violinistic prowess. Although there are hints of guitar and castanets, the real ‘Spanish’ character of this music is more a matter of general atmosphere; sultry, impassioned themes and characteristic, rhythmic patterns. Debussy’s seductive painting of a languid, sun-drenched Sicilian afternoon marked a turning point in musical history, with its tenuous grasp of tonality and harmony. It weaves a tantalising veil of hypnotic colours and textures, conjuring up the lustful dream of a flute-playing satyr – half man, half goat – of seducing two sleeping nymphs.
Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Lalo Symphonie espagnole