TCHAIKOVSKY: Suites No. 3 and No. 4, 'Mozartiana' (Audrey Park/ Chris Craker/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra/ Stefan Sanderling) (Naxos: 8.550728)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Suite No.3 in G Major, Op. 55
Suite No.4 in G Major ("Mozartiana"), Op. 61
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky belonged to the first generation ofRussian composers to have the undoubted advantage of professional musical training at theConservatory in St. Petersburg, newly established by Anton Rubinstein, under the patronageof the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna. Abandoning the career intended for him, as anofficial in the Ministry of Justice, he turned to music, and followed his studies withemployment on the staff of the new Moscow Conservatory, directed by Nikolai Rubinstein,brother of the founder of the institution in St. Petersburg. Diffident in character, andsubject to acute nervous depression, he suffered considerably from an unfortunatemarriage, contracted in 1877 in an ingenuous attempt to conceal his own homosexualinclinations, a match followed by immediate separation and divorce.
For some years Tchaikovsky enjoyed the moral and financialsupport of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck. a woman he was never to meet, although hestayed at her estate in Brailov during her absence. Her help allowed him to withdraw fromthe drudgery of teaching at the Moscow Conservatory and to devote himself to composition.
With her he continued to exchange letters which reveal something of the thoughts andfeelings behind the music he was writing.
It has been suggested that Tchaikovsky's death, in 1893, wassuicide, forced upon him by a court of honour of former students of the School ofJurisprudence to avoid a threatened scandal, resulting from a liaison with the son of anobleman. Whatever the truth of this, the official cause of death, announced as cholera,enabled his passing to be mourned as it should have been, his achievement in Russian musichaving become increasingly apparent at home and abroad. Tchaikovsky might have appeared toVienna critics such as Eduard Hanslick as irredeemably Russian. At home, however, he worea much more cosmopolitan air than the group of avowedly nationalist composers with theirself-appointed leaders Balakirev and Cesar Cui, declared enemies of the Rubinsteins andthe "German" training offered by the Conservatories.
In the early summer of 1884 Tchaikovsky was staying at Kamenka,the estate of his brother-in-law Lev Davidov. He had already achieved much, and yet, inhis habitual manner, he was again questioning his own powers as a composer, fearing thathe had nothing left to say. Entries in his diary in May express these anxieties, as hestruggled with the composition of the third of his orchestral suites. In fact the work,particularly in its final set of variations, was to prove one of his most effective. Onits first performance, which took place in St. Petersburg in January 1885, it was aninstant success.
The Elegie, which forms the first movement, replacedTchaikovsky's original conception, Contrastes, something that he had found intractable anddetestably commonplace. The movement combines subtle colouring of orchestration with thecomposer's great melodic facility, in music of serene happiness, inspired, perhaps, by hisgrowing affection for his young nephew Bob Davidov, an infatuation recorded in hisdiaries. The Waltz of the second movement seems also to have caused considerable trouble.
It opens with ominous hints of sadness, dispelled by the turn that the opening melodytakes, with its suggestions of Russian folk-song. There is a middle section of greaterintensity, before the opening mood is restored. The third movement, a Scherzo, with acontrasted central section, is in the rhythm of a tarantelle and is followed by a Themeand Variations, the best known movement in the whole suite. The characteristically Russiantheme is followed by twelve variations. The first of these combines the melody played bythe plucked strings with a fascinating countersubject entrusted to flutes and clarinets.
This is followed by a variation of feverish activity and a third in which flute and secondclarinet share the melody, with a woodwind accompaniment. A fourth variation brings withit the suggestion of a ballet, with its romantic B minor key and colourful orchestration.
A fugal version of the material comes next, succeeded by a brief and energetic dance. Theseventh variation brings the serenity of a liturgical chant for the woodwind, while theeighth allows a cor anglais its version of the melody. Melancholy is dispersed in thevariation that follows, ending with a cadenza for solo violin, to introduce a variationprincipally for the violin and replete I with choreographic implications. The wholeorchestra joins in the penultimate variation, interrupted by a drum-roll and fanfares tousher in a final extended Polacca, a festive and elaborate section, of symphonicproportions.
The fourth and final suite written by Tchaikovsky was composedin 1887. He had first entertained the idea of writing a suite based on pieces by Mozart in1884. The impetus for putting the project into practice came with the imminence of thecentenary of the first performance of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, due to fall on 29thOctober 1887. The completed suite was first performed at a Russian Music Society concertin Moscow on 26th November. Tchaikovsky made use of four pieces by Mozart. For the firstmovement he chose the Gigue that Mozart had written in the music-book of a Leipzigorganist in 1789. He followed this keyboard piece with an arrangement of a Minuet from1780. The third movement is based on Liszt's keyboard transcription of Mozart's Ave verum, introduced here by woodwind and harp,followed by muted strings in a confection far enough removed from Mozart's originalconception. The final movement takes Mozart's variations on Gluck's Unser dumme Pobel meint. The ten variations allowTchaikovsky to employ all the varied and delicate colouring of his orchestral palette,with a violin cadenza leading to the ninth and a clarinet cadenza before the sameinstrument leads to the return of the original theme. The suite, eventually known asMozartiana, in spite of the composer's earlier misgivings, is pure Tchaikovsky in texture,his tribute to a composer that he regarded as his God and an attempt to introduce to awider public keyboard pieces by Mozart that at the time were relatively little known.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
The RT?ë Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1947 as part of theRadio and Television service in Ireland. With its membership coming from France, Germany,Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Russia, it drew together a rich blend of Europeanculture. Apart from its many symphony concerts, the orchestra came to world-wide attentionwith its participation in the famous Wexford Opera Festival, an event broadcast in manyparts of the world. The orchestra now enjoys the facilities of a fine new concert hall incentral Dublin, where it performs with the world's leading conductors and soloists. In1990 the RT?ë Symphony Orchestra was augmented and renamed the National Symphony Orchestraof Ireland. Under its Principal Conductor, George Hurst, it quickly established itself asone of Europe's most adventurous orchestras with programmes featuring many 20th centurycompositions. The orchestra has now embarked upon an extensive recording project for theNaxos and Marco Polo labels and will record music by Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, Goldmark,Rachmaninov, Brian and Scriabin.
Stefan Sanderling, General Music Director of the BrandenburgPhilharmonic Orchestra and the Opera in Potsdam, was born in 1964, and received his earlymusical training from his father, the distinguished conductor Kurt