Winner of numerous prestigious competitions and hailed by The New York Times as an “especially impressive fine young pianist,” RICHARD DOWLING has achieved nationwide attention for recitals seen on the PBS television program Debut and heard on the NPR radio program Performance Today and has gained international stature through solo recitals and as soloist with orchestras in the Far East, Australia, Africa and Europe, including repeated performance tours in France.
Mr. Dowling’s career highlights include a sold-out New York orchestral debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, a solo recital at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall in New York, and a special award from the National Federation of Music Clubs in recognition of his outstanding performances of American music. His appearances in 1998 in celebration of the centennial of George Gershwin’s birth included Gershwin’s familiar Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F and his rarely-heard Second Rhapsody and Variations on "I Got Rhythm,” and in 2001 he released a compact disc (Sweet and Low-Down) containing virtually all of the solo piano works by Gershwin on the Klavier Records label, prompting American Record Guide to rave, “If you love Gershwin, don’t miss this!” Additional Dowling CDs include Dowling Plays Chopin (Vols. I and II) for Piano Productions Recordings and World’s Greatest Piano Rags for Klavier Records.
Mr. Dowling’s affinity for France and its music, underscored by his four concert tours in France, has brought him the honor, shared by very few other Americans, of being inducted as a Chevalier of the renowned Company of Musketeers of Armagnac, and, in addition, was a major reason for his choice of Maurice Ravel as the subject of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas, from which he holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree.
In addition to his regular performance schedule, Mr. Dowling, who currently resides in New York City, continues to enjoy serving as a member of the artist roster of The Piatigorsky Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing live classical music to audiences across America, under whose auspices he has performed over 700 recitals over the past ten years.
Overture to Der Freischütz, Op 77
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
When von Weber completed his opera Der Freischütz (The Free Shooter) in 1821, both Beethoven and Rossini were still living, with Rossini by far the more popular of those two composers and Italian opera at the height of its preferred status as musical entertainment. Nevertheless, although seldom performed nowadays except in Germany, Der Freischütz,with its action set in a German forest, its imaginative (if somewhat overly complex) plot derived from German legend, and its music inspired by German folk tunes, Der Freischütz was an immediate success, quickly becoming a cornerstone of German nationalistic music.
The opera’s story line -- replete with invisible spirits, pacts with the Devil, and magic bullets -- is a fantasized representation of the conflict between Good and Evil, and the music (especially in the opera’s spookily exciting Wolf Glen scene) wonderfully underscores the possibilities of orchestral tone painting.
In the Overture, which has remained one of the most popular works of its kind, von Weber moved away from the accustomed use of melodies from an opera as themes in a more or less traditional sonata form. Instead, he arranged a series of themes almost as in a suite, alternating those representing “Good” (always in a major key) and others representing “Evil” (always in a minor key). As a concert piece, the Overture comes across as a kind of “program music” that delineates the opera’s dramatic events.
The music begins quietly and slowly, the sound rising in a crescendo, with the orchestra creating contrasts between the peaceful and threatening qualities of the forest. Horns enter with a beautiful, noblesounding melody over tremulous strings followed by a contrastingly turbulent and ominous string segment possibly proclaiming the pact made between a main character (Caspar) and the Devil. Aria themes from the opera are subsequently woven in, and there is a very impressive orchestral storm and chase before the Overture comes to a triumphant close (in a major key, of course), proclaiming the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil.
Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op. 21
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Still intent on following a career as a virtuoso pianist (a plan he later abandoned because of all the exhausting traveling involved) and still living in his native Warsaw, Chopin was only nineteen when he composed his F minor concerto, intending it mainly as a display piece for his own use. Although it was actually the first of the two piano concertos he wrote, predating his E minor concerto by more than six months, it is misleadingly labeled No. 2 because of its postponed publication.
In spite of its intended primary use as a display piece, the work is replete with youthful evidence of all of the distinguishing elements of Chopin’s inimitable style, including themes that move from quiet introspection to overt passion, harmonies that evoke poignant melancholy, and sparkling pianistic ornamentation.
The first movement (Maestoso) is structured as a double-exposition variant of classical sonata-allegro form. A lengthy orchestral introduction announces two themes, with the first of them, characterized by mazurka-like dotted rhythms, conveying the sort of restless agitation so popular with Romantic composers and the second providing a warm lyrical contrast.
Once the solo piano enters, though, it takes full charge, with the orchestra relegated for the most part to frank accompaniment. The solo part is so well supplied with stylistic display that no cadenza was deemed necessary to convince an audience of the soloist’s virtuosity; but quite uncharacteristically of this sort of work, there are frequent sequences of warm and often majestic lyricism.
Also uncharacteristic of the usual Romantic virtuoso concerto, the slow second movement (Larghetto), instead of being a rather mundane token piece, is an expressive, heartfelt interlude. In a letter to a friend, Chopin is said to have confessed that he was “emotionally overwhelmed” by “perfect love” for a young lady (whom he named) and that he had conceived his concerto’s second movement as an expression of his love. A lack of any recorded evidence of such an involvement suggests that Chopin’s “perfect love” happened entirely in his mind; but the lovely Larghetto is a splendid tribute all the same. It is a nocturne-like piece embodying the sort of well-loved elements that abound in Chopin’s later works – rich melodies, gliding ornamentation, magical harmonies, and unparalleled pianistic sonorities.
The finale (Allegro vivace), a rondo-like three-part movement, derives its flavor quite frankly from Polish folk music, particularly the mazurka, with its playfully skewed rhythms – a sound treat that quickly endeared both the concerto and Chopin himself to his passionately patriotic Polish audiences. Near the end, a sudden transition into the happily bright key of F Major and a signal from a horn lead into a short coda that brings the concerto to a spirited conclusion.
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
Completed in a single month, Dvořák's Symphony No. 8, which many consider to be the finest of his nine, was early on (but only briefly) referred to as the "English," possibly because shortly after its 1890 premiere in Prague under the composer's direction, it was performed to great acclaim at Cambridge, where Dvořák was honored with a doctorate. There is nothing "English" about it, though, imbued as it is with folk-like melodies of a distinctively Czech flavor.
At the time of its composition, Dvořák maintained that he intended it to be different from his earlier symphonies, "with ideas worked out in a new manner.” So although the symphony follows traditional classical patterns, Dvořák's different approaches to both melody and harmony make it a work of obvious originality, most distinctively in his use of the aforementioned folk-like melodies coherently integrated though subtle development. The overall effect is cheerful and optimistic; but darker and somewhat more introspective passages here and there provide additional emotional depth.
The first movement (Allegro con brio) begins with a slow introduction-like segment, with cellos and woodwinds intoning a lovely melody in a minor key that will recur now and then throughout the movement, defining its sonata-form structure. The exposition, which introduces the movement’s two principal themes, the first a very vigorous one and the second (in B minor) a gentler, more song-like one, leads without repetition into a lengthy development, where Dvořák makes skillful use of both harmony and orchestration to build tension towards a tempestuous climax, where the opening melody returns, played fortissimo by trumpets over violent scales in the strings. A brief but developmentally creative recapitulation then leads to a fiery conclusion, quite in contrast to the movement’s quiet opening.
The second movement (Adagio) begins darkly in the key of C minor before the mood brightens, with the movement’s principal theme sung in C Major by woodwinds over descending scales in the strings. With increasing strength and majesty the music then moves towards a mighty climax. The mood is then briefly intruded upon by a dark and rather angry passage in a minor key before the cheerful main theme returns, this time played by strings, with woodwinds providing the descending accompanying scales.
The third movement (Allegretto grazioso – Allegro vivace) is a scherzo and trio. Like the first movement, it opens in the key of G minor, inducing a sweetly melancholy mood, but the major tonality returns and the mood brightens in the central Trio section. Then, following the repeat of the Scherzo, Dvořák increases the tempo in an energetic coda that leads into the finale.
The final movement (Allegro ma non troppo) opens with a sparkling trumpet fanfare. Cellos then introduce the main theme. Structurally the movement is an interesting approach to theme and variations form, with both the main theme and the second variation returning now and again as they would in a rondo. The first variation is little more than a slight elaboration of the main theme, but the second, with its dazzling horn trills, is riotously energetic. The remaining variations evoke a variety of moods: a simple “music box” version for flute, an unadorned march in a minor key, and a somber and introspective variation for strings. The movement and the symphony end, though, with the exuberant second variation, which returns and develops into a brilliantly vigorous coda.
Program notes by Courtenay Caublé