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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
"Tolstoy says: "Tchaikovsky is dead," - and two huge tears (for everything is larger than life with him...), rolled down his great cheeks" (Marie Scheikevitch). To the writer Vasily Yastrebtsev (1899), Tchaikovsky was a man of his time: "When Mussorgsky and Dargomizhsky were forging an extreme naturalism and a genre that was not always artistic - when Borodin was submerging himself in a prehistoric epoch ...when Rimsky-Korsakov ...has been drawn into his own personal, clearly individual, pagan, fairy-tale ...and when Cui ...flies off into a Scotland that is alien to us - Tchaikovsky has been filled totally with the spirit of his age, and with all the highly strung fervour of his deeply sensitive and impressionable nature ...has 'depicted us ourselves alone', with our unresolved doubts, our sorrow and our joys".
The B flat minor Concerto was completed in 1874-75 (November- 9th February): pianistically, however, the bravura form we know it in today (incorporating improvements in all probability suggested by Edward Dannreuther and Alexander Siloti) was consolidated only by the third edition of 1888-89. "Worthless" and "unplayable" was the reaction of Nikolay Rubinstein, influential Director of the Moscow Conservatory: "It appeared ...that passages were trite, awkward, and so clumsy that it was impossible to put them right, that as composition it was bad and tawdry, that I had filched this bit from here and that bit from there, that there were only two or three pages that could be retained, and that the rest would have to be scrapped or completely revised. ...I can't convey to you the most significant thing -that is, the tone in which all this was delivered. In a word, any outsider who chanced to come into the room might have thought that I was an imbecile, an untalented scribbler, who understood nothing, who had come to an eminent musicien to pester him with rubbish ...I was not only stunned, I was mortified by the whole scene" (Letter from the composer to Nadezhda von Meck, 21st January 1878). Rubinstein was not alone in his opinion. "Hardly destined ..to become classical" was the judgement of American critics following the work's first performance (by the dedicatee, the great German pianist Hans von Billow, Boston Music Hall, 25th October 1875), and for one St Petersburg critic, reporting the first Russian performance (13th November 1875 with Gustav Kross and Napravnik), it was "like the first pancake ...a flop".
Von Biilow, in a letter to Tchaikovsky of 1stJune 1875, admired it unreservedly: "so original in thought (yet never affected), so noble, so strong, so interesting in details (the quantity of which never interferes with the clearness and unity of the conception as a whole) ...In short, this is a real pearl and you deserve the gratitude of all pianists" .Subsequently Rubinstein repented, conducting the Moscow premiere (with the young Sergei Taneyev, the originally intended dedicatee and future teacher of Scriabin as soloist on 3rd December 1875), and later even learning the piano part.
Underlined by overt folk-song, Ukrainian in the outer movements, French in the D flat middle one, and covert Schumannesque cipher identities, the B flat minor is a resplendent "war-horse" of the virtuoso repertoire, a glowingly inflamed witness to an emotion of race and individual born as much out of Slavonic ritual and memory as Romantic dream and passion. Nothing in the history of the nineteenth century concerto or its survival into the twentieth is so glorious as the sweepingly magnificent (tonally suspending/negating) prologue and epilogue with which the first and third movements begin and end. Nothing is so tenderly loving or teasingly flirtatious as the second with its combined function of lullaby and scherzo, aria and ditty. And - witness the celebrated opening fortissimo piano chords (in their third edition massiveness, a Silotism borrowed as much from a very new nocturne by the fourteen year old Rachrnaninov, 12th January 1888, as Anton Rubinstein's Fifth Concerto, 1874) pitted against mezzoforte violin and cello melody -nothing better illustrates the firing of a creative urge "by the dramatic possibilities within the confrontation of heroic soloist and eloquent orchestra" (David Brown, 1982).
The single-movement Third Piano Concerto (Allegro de Concert, Konzertstück, drafted by 1st July, orchestrated by 3rd October 1893), and the unfinished Andanteand Finale (sketched by lOth July 1893, completed and orchestrated from the composer's short-score by Taneyev), date from the time of the Pathétique Symphony and the last months of Tchaikovsky's life. Intended for the French pianist Louis Diemer, Teacher of Casadesus, Cortot and d'Indy, but in fact first performed by Taneyev in St Petersburg on 7th January 1895, the Concerto drew on discarded sketches for an unfinished symphony in E flat (1892) - a work since reconstructed by Semyon Bogatyryev (Moscow 1961). Tchaikovsky's withering judgement of this symphony was that it had been "written for the sake of writing something, and contains nothing interesting or appealing". No matter, he successfully mined it has to fashion what has been called" an undeservedly neglected Russian piano concerto of considerable appeal" Jeremy Norris, 1994). In so doing, he adhered closely to his first ideas, but added new material in the form of a solo cadenza (elaborating the second subject), unclassically placed between the development section and reprise, like all such Tchaikovsky moments, a focal point of the drama.
Also based on the abandoned symphony, "the last two movements contain nothing in particular" was the composer's verdict on the (B flat) Andante and (E flat) Finale. Modern opinion has been harsher. "Mild and uneventful... dry and dead ... plenty of bustle and very little enterprise" (Eric Blom, 1945). " Appalling triviality ... truly astonishing banality ...dull and unimaginative ...generally considered best forgotten" (Norris). Chippings from the workshop, they supplement our knowledge of the Tchaikovsky catalogue without adding anything to our perception of his genius. The first performance was given by Taneyev in St Petersburg on 8th February 1896. Later, in time for a well-received Russian Symphony performance under Rimsky-Korsakov on 17th October 1898, he radically reworked the solo part -"improving" and elaborating 82 bars of the Andante and seventeen of the Finale so as to "show off the pianist to greater advantage" (published Moscow 1955).
1996 Ateş Orga
A prize-winner on no less than seventeen occasions in international competitions, the young German pianist Bernd Glemser was born in Dürbheim and was still a pupil of Vitalij Margulis when he was appointed professor at the Saarbrticken Musikhochschule, in succession to Andor Foldes, himself the successor of Walter Gieseking. In 1992 he won the Andor Foldes Prize and in 1993 the first European Pianists' Prize. With a wide repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary, Bernd Glemser has a particular affection for the virtuoso music of the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, the work of Liszt, Tausig, Godowski, Busoni, and especially that of Rachmaninov. His career has brought appearances at the major music festivals and leading concert halls throughout Europe and further afield.
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till the outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra was resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO are recording the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.
Antoni Wit was born in Cracow in 1944 and studied there, before becoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw in 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has undertaken many engagements abroad with major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras to the Kusatsu Festival Orchestra in Japan.
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3