Tchaikovsky Festival (Adrian Leaper/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550500)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture 1812 Overture, Op. 49
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45
Marche Slave, Op. 31
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the second son by his second wife of a mining engineer, manager of a metal works. At home he showed musical precocity and in 1848 he had his first experience of school in St. Petersburg. Two years later he entered the School of Jurisprudence, where he remained for nine years, later entering the government service. In 1863 he resigned from his position in the Ministry of Justice and became a student at the newly established Conservatory in St. Petersburg, following this with appointment to the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow. He remained on the staff of the Moscow Conservatory until 1878, when a pension from a rich widow, with whom he corresponded for years but whom he never met, gave him independence to continue a career as a composer. He died when he seemed at the height of his powers, in 1893.
This bald account of the course of Tchaikovsky's life ignores aspects that caused him a great deal of misery. The departure of his beloved governess in 1848 and the death of his mother in 1854 moved him deeply, affecting a nature that had already proved morbidly sensitive and diffident. Tchaikovsky was well enough liked by his contemporaries at the School of Jurisprudence and was never one to withdraw from social contact. Nevertheless, as a musician, he was easily depressed by harsh criticism and remained intensely critical of what he wrote.
In 1868 Tchaikovsky had written a symphonic poem Fatum and this had elicited from Balakirev, in St. Petersburg, harsh and detailed criticism. Balakirev was the leader of the group of nationalist composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky. He had taken over the direction of the Russian Music Society concerts in St. Petersburg after the resignation of their founder, Anton Rubinstein in 1867. In 1869 he was dismissed by the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and Tchaikovsky gallantly published an article deploring this. Tchaikovsky's defence of Balakirev and his ready acceptance of the criticism of Fatum led to the renewal of Balakirev's influence over him, and it was from him that the idea of writing an orchestral work on the subject of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet came. Balakirev was always ready to offer criticism of the music of his contemporaries, but was equally generous with ideas.
The story of Romeo and Juliet is too well known to need repetition. Tchaikovsky makes no attempt to follow the events as they occur in Shakespeare's play. There is the solemnity of Friar Laurence, whose well-intentioned intervention is the indirect cause of the tragedy, a theme re-creating the traditional enmity of the houses of Montague and Capulet and a sensuous melody expressing the love of Romeo and Juliet. The overture is in traditional sonata-form, the exposition, with its principal thematic material, followed by a central development and a final recapitulation, in which love ends in death. The original Overture was revised in 1870, on the suggestion of Balakirev, and underwent further revision in 1880, when it became an Overture-Fantasy.
About the 1812 Overture Tchaikovsky was diffident, describing it, in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck, as \without any serious merits". The overture was written in response to an official commission from Nikolay Rubinstein and was to celebrate the opening of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, an event timed to coincide with the Moscow Exhibition of Industry and the Arts and the silver jubilee of the Tsar.
Since the building of the Cathedral was designed to commemorate the events of 1812, when the armies of Napoleon had been forced to retreat from Moscow, Tchaikovsky chose to make his overture a graphic description of the conflict, with the French represented by the Marseillaise and Russia by an Orthodox chant and a folk-song, and, in final victory, by "God save the Tsar".
The piece, therefore, aptly honoured a royal occasion as well as a religious and patriotic one. The inclusion of cannon in the scoring has made the overture a popular spectacle.
The Italian Capriccio was written in 1880. Tchaikovsky had started the work in Rome, where he spent part of the winter of 1879/1880 with his brother Modest and the latter's young pupil Kolya. Originally envisaged as an Italian Suite on folk melodies, the work was modelled to some extent on Glinka's Spanish fantasias. The Capriccio opens with a fanfare that echoes the sound that the composer heard every morning in Rome from the barracks next to his hotel. Four other Italian melodies are used, the last a Neapolitan tarantella known as Ciccuzza. The work received its first performance in Moscow in December, 1880, under the direction of Nikolay Rubinstein.
The Marche Slave, Opus 31, was completed early in October 1876, in response to a request from Nikolay Rubinstein for a work to be played at a Moscow concert in aid of victims of the Turks in the Balkans, where Montenegro and Serbia had declared war against Turkey, and Russian pro-Slav feelings were running high.
The original title of the work was the Serbo-Russian March, and Tchaikovsky used in it fragments of three Serbian melodies, with a reference to the Russian Imperial anthem before the re-appearance of material of the opening in a final, third section. The anthem appears in fuller form at the climax of a march that was well calculated to appeal to the patriotic emotions of the day.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was created by Sir Thomas Beecham three weeks before its first concert, which took place in the Davis Hall, Croydon, on 15th September, 1946. The orchestra was initially associated with the Royal Philharmonic Society and involved in the Society's subscription concert series, later earning for itself the title "Royal", when this association came to an end. Beecham gave his last concert with the orchestra in 1960 and was succeeded by Rudolf Kempe, who became principal conductor on Beecham's death the following year. The orchestra has from the beginning been involved in recording, with a major international reputation supported by foreign tours and by association with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction.
Adrian Leaper was appointed Assistant Conductor to Stanislaw Skrowaczewski of the Hallé Orchestra in 1986, and has since then enjoyed an increasingly busy career, with engagements at home and throughout Europe. Born in 1953, Adrian Leaper studied at the Royal Academy of Music and was for a number of years co-principal French horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra, before turning his attention exclusively to conducting. He has been closely involved with the Naxos and Marco Polo labels and has been consequently instrumental in introducing elements of English repertoire to Eastern Europe. His numerous recordings include a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies for Naxos.