An Enchanting Evening with the Great Romantic

Nihad Allam, Monday 4 Apr 2011

On 2 April, the audience of the Cairo Opera House enjoyed a marvellous concert by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hisham Gabr and featuring soloists Basma Abdel-Rahim (violin) and Kamel Salah el Din (cello)

photo by Sherif Sonbol

Johannes Brahms (1883- 1897) is often considered as the ultimate romantic composer. Two of Brahms’ masterpieces were performed that night. The first was the Double Concerto for violin and cello. Besides being partly a work of reconciliation, dedicated to the composer’s close friend, violin virtuoso Joachim, the Double Concerto is Brahms’ final orchestral work (1878).

Thus, it sums up the composer’s lifetime emotional experiences. Some musicologists conceive the association of the cello and the violin as evoking a male-female polarity and resounding love-duets. While others see that combining the two instruments is like creating a new “super” stringed instrument, with a wider range and richer sonority than each instrument alone. This is noticeable in the development of the first movement, when the two instruments play together one phrase, the violin on its highest string position and the cello on its lowest notes.

The second movement is an Andante with a beautiful lush tune. The third movement, Vivace non troppo recalls the virtuoso techniques of the first movement and the lyrical final theme reflects Brahms’ fascination with gypsy dance music. The Double Concerto is a very challenging piece. However it was brilliantly performed and the renowned soloists displayed their masterful skills with great ease and full partnership.

The second masterpiece performed that night was Brahms’ captivating and very romantic Third Symphony, written in 1883. It was an immediate success, and was called “Brahms’ Eroica” by Hans Richter who conducted the premiere.

Brahms was influenced by Schumann and sometimes shared his taste for hidden messages and ciphers. The first three notes of the symphony form a motto: FAF, significant to Brahms as Frei aber froh, meaning free but happy, in response to Joachim’s motto: FAE, Frei aber einsam, free but lonely. The motto is used through the movement as an underlying bass line, melody or accompaniment.

The lively first movement carries pleasant waltz measures. The second movement is a peaceful Andante. Instead of using the traditional rapid Scherzo for the third movement, Brahms created a unique kind of third movement that is moderate in tempo, Poco Allegretto, extremely lyrical, moving and soulful, one of the most beautiful melodies ever.

The fourth and final movement, Allegro, is lyrical and passionate, rich in melody, finely-crafted and developed. Towards the end, the initial motto of the first movement appears again, and fades away. The quiet ending, unlike a sharp one would do, tends to keep the listener floating in the extended aura of the symphony.

But the enchantment wasn’t only due to the composition, but also to the sensitive and exquisite performance, conducted by Hisham Gabr, who carried the audience to heights of sublimity.



Basma Abdel-Rahim was born to a family of eminent musicians. Her father, Gamal Abdel-Rahim was a leading Egyptian composer of the twentieth century and founder of the Composition Department in Cairo Conservatoire. Basma graduated with honours in 1982 from Cairo Conservatoire, got a diploma in Frankfurt in 1987 and continued professional studies in the US in 1991. She has successfully premiered contemporary works written for and dedicated to her. She was appointed first violinist in the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1988.

Kamel Salah El Din, cellist, graduated with honours from Cairo Conservatoire in 1979, obtained the Soloist Diploma from Frankfurt in 1988 and continued studies in the US. He was appointed co-leader of the cellos of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1988. Kamel Salah El Din and his wife Basma Abdel-Rahim are both members of the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble on historical instruments with Thomas Hengelbrock. 

Hisham Gabr, composer and conductor, graduated with excellence from the Cairo Conservatoire, Flute Department in 1994 and joined Cairo Symphony Orchestra in 1992. In 2002, he participated in a conducting workshop and was chosen among the best participants. He has studied conducting with many well-known conductors in Egypt and abroad (Christophe Mueller, Dominique Ruits and others). Gabr frequently conducts Cairo Symphony Orchestra as well as Cairo Opera Orchestra and BA Chamber Orchestra.


Photos by Sherif Sonbol

Short link: