TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 1 / Hamlet Overture (Adrian Leaper/ Beata Jankowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550517)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No.1 in G Minor, Op.13 "Winter Daydreams"
Hamlet, Op. 67 (Fantasy Overture)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popularof all Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions inits melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovskythan this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of what sometimesseems to be an excess of popular attention.
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a miningengineer, Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home,under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was apupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his course there in1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed hisabilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable that he would, like hiscontemporaries Musorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, keep music as a secondaryoccupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundationof the new Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him tostudy there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a member ofthe staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein's brother Nikolay. Hecontinued there for some ten years, before financial assistance from a rich widow,Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely tocomposition. The same period in his life brought an unfortunate marriage to aself-proclaimed admirer of his work, a woman who showed early signs of mental instability,and could only add further to Tchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. Hishomosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupledwith physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous breakdown.
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still leftpractical and personal problems to be solved. Tchaikovsky's relationship with Nadezhda vonMeck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career, butalso the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from making physical demands ofhim, never even met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison only came to an end in1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowancethat was no longer of importance, and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.
The story of Tchaikovsky's death in St. Petersburg in 1893 isnow generally known. It seems that a member of the nobility had threatened to complain tothe Tsar about an alleged homosexual relationship between Tchaikovsky and his son. Toavoid open scandal a court of honour of Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows met and condemnedhim to death, forcing him to take his own life. His death was announced as the result ofcholera, and this official version of the event was, until relatively recently, generallyaccepted.
Among the Russian nationalists Cesar Cui was an acerbiccritic, and his view of Tchaikovsky's graduation cantata, a setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy, as very weak was not encouraging. HisOverture in F, however, won greater success, and the approval of the Rubinstein brothers.
After graduation Tchaikovsky took up his position at the Conservatory in Moscow, with aninitial salary of fifty roubles a month, increased when the Conservatory was officiallyinaugurated in September. It was with the encouragement of Nikolay Rubinstein, now hisguide and mentor, that he started work on his first symphony, working on it throughout thesummer. At the end of August he visited St. Petersburg and showed the unfinished symphonyto his former teachers, Anton Rubinstein and Nikolay Zaremba, both of whom regarded itwith disfavour, as they did when Tchaikovsky again sought their approval during theChristmas holidays. The symphony was eventually introduced to the public piecemeal byNikolay Rubinstein, who conducted a performance of the Schezo m Moscow in December, 1866and the Adagio and Scherzo in St. Petersburg the following February. The whole symphonywas eventually performed in Moscow a year later. Its composition had been fraught withdifficulties, due, in part, to the irregular hours Tchaikovsky kept as a lodger in NikolayRubinstein's house and the necessity, all too often, of working late at night on thescore. This had resulted in insomnia, hallucinations, a recurrence of what he referred toas apoplectic fits, and in July a nervous break-down. The symphony was dedicated toNikolay Rubinstein, revised for publication in 1874 and corrected once more for a newedition in 1888.
The titles provided by Tchaikovsky for the first two movementsof the symphony are largely irrelevant to a listener. The first, in which many havesuggested the influence of Mendelssohn, carries the title Daydreams of a Winter Journey, the first themeemerging from the mist of the violins, played by flute and bassoon, and a second equallyRussian theme introduced by the clarinet in a movement of classical sonata-form structure.
The Adagio, which won particular approval from the Moscow audience at its performance in1868, has the title Land of Desolation, Land of Mists. Here the trumpets and timpani ofthe first movement have no part to play, as the strings introduce the slow movement,leading to an overtly Russian oboe melody. The Scherzo, which has no other title, wasadapted from the composer's C sharp minor Piano Sonata, with a new Trio section, while thefinal movement, with its mournful woodwind opening, is based on a folk-song that also liesbehind the two principal themes that follow. In the last section of the finale theintroduction re-appears briefly before the energetic conclusion.
Fantasy Overture Hamlet
is the third of Tchaikovsky's works based on Shakespeare. In 1869 he had tackled Romeo and Juliet, followed in 1873 by The Tempest. Hamlet
was written in 1888 and dedicated to Grieg, although it might have been suggested by theFrench actor Lucien Guitry, who asked for incidental music for the play for his finalbenefit performance in St. Petersburg in 1891. The incidental music eventually includedmaterial from the Fantasy-overture, which had its first performance in St. Petersburg inNovember 1888. The work was received coolly, while Balakirev, in private correspondencewith the composer, objected to the intrusion of Shepherds from Vladimir at one point andwhat he considered the triviality of the love-theme-Hamlet pays Ophelia compliments andhands her an ice-cream. The overture is scored for a full orchestra with piccolo, pairs offlutes and oboes, cor anglais, pairs of clarinets and bassoons, four horns, cornets,trumpets, trombones and tuba, timpani, a percussion section that includes snare-drum,tamtam, bass drum and cymbals and the usual strings. Its opening is marked Lento lugubre,leading to a dramatic Allegro vivace. As in the earlier works based on Shakespeare, thereis no attempt at a detailed narrative programme, a fact regretted by one critic at leastat the first performance.
The Polish National Radio 5ymphonyOrchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice(PRNSO) was founded in 1945, soon after the end of the World War II, by the eminent Polishconductor Witold Rowicki. The PNRSO replaced the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra which hadexisted from 1934 to 1939 in Warsaw,