The theatrical and energetic side of Richard Strauss's early symphonic poems Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung could be described as quasi-cinematic realism in music. The orchestra closely follows the adventures of the main characters, and anecdotes are often rendered down to the last detail. Don Juan is a lively portrait of the legendary seducer who, at the end of the work, succumbs to exhaustion and disappointment. By contrast, Tod und Verklärung depicts how a dying man looks back on his life and, after his death, attains a higher plane. This music is full of restrained drama.
Strauss was able to compose such evocative and dramatic orchestral music because he was one of the greatest opera composers of the twentieth century. Alban Berg's Opus 1, originally a piano sonata, is heard here in Theo Verbey's colourful orchestration, which The Concertgebouworkest has regularly performed since 1993.
The concert opens with little-known incidental music by Zemlinsky, another musical storyteller positioned between nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century modernity.