TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 3 / The Tempest (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550518)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No.3 in D Major, Op. 29
The Tempest, Op. 18
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 often he was a pupilat the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his course there in 1859 totake employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed his abilitiesas a musician and it must have seemed probable that he would, like his contemporariesMussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, whilefollowing 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.
Tchaikovsky wrote his third symphony, the only one in a majorkey, in the summer of 1875, sketching much of it while staying at the estate of VladimirShilovsky at Usovo. A month later he moved to Nizy, where in the space of ten days heorchestrated the last two movements. Then, after breaking his journey in Moscow and inKiev, he went to stay with his sister and brother-in-law at Verbovka, where he wassurrounded by members of his own family. In two weeks he had finished scoring thesymphony, and felt ready to start on a new commission, the ballet Swan Lake. The symphonywas performed at a Russian Music Society concert in Moscow in November, with NikolayRubinstein conducting. The fee for the right of first performance was 300 roubles. InFebruary the next year there was a performance in St. Petersburg, well received by thecritic Laroche, an enthusiastic supporter, although his criticism was misinterpreted byTchaikovsky. Even Cui had something good to say about it, although he had to add that morewas expected of the composer. Performance at the Crystal Palace concerts under SirAugustus Manns seems to have provided the symphony with its inappropriate nickname, thePolish, a reference to the direction Tempodi Polacca that prefaces the last movement. Thesymphony was dedicated to Vladimir Shilovsky.
The introduction to the first movement of the symphony ismarked Moderato assai, Tempo di marcia funebre, the funeral march proceeding withincreased pace towards the Allegro vivace, its principal theme announced by woodwind andstrings. The second movement, Alla Tedesca, is in fact a waltz with a colourfullyorchestrated Trio. At the heart of the symphony is the slow movement, a pastoral idyll,evocatively opened by the woodwind. The Scherzo, with its fragmented melody andwonderfully orchestrated Trio, against a held French horn note, is followed by a moreformal D major finale, its Polish dance rhythm emphatically introduced at the outset, butlater the excuse for less inspired moments.
Tchaikovsky, in common with other artists and composers of thenineteenth century, found a ready source of inspiration in Shakespeare. The suggestion fora musical treatment of The Tempest came from Vladimir Stasov, mentor of the Mighty Handfulof nationalist composers to which Tchaikovsky never committed himself. He wrote the workrapidly, over a period of some eleven days in the autumn of 1873. The first performance,under Nikolay Rubinstein, took place on 19th December, 1873, at a Russian Music Societyconcert.
The programme of The Tempest
(Burya), Opus 18, described as a fantasiafor orchestra, is derived from Stasov and was printed with the published score: The sea.
Ariel, spirit of the air, obeying the will of the magician Prospero, raises a storm. Wreckof the ship bringing Ferdinand. The enchanted isle. First timid feelings of love ofMiranda and Ferdinand. Ariel, Caliban. The lovers succumb to their passion. Prosperodeprives himself of his magic power and leaves the island. The sea.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice(PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice(PNRSO) was founded in 1945, soon after the end of the second World War, by the eminentPolish conductor Witold Rowicki. The PNRSO replaced the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,which had existed from 1934 to 1939 in Warsaw, under the direction of another outstandingartist, Grzegorz Fitelberg. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returnedto Poland and becameartistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polishconductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, JerzyMaksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared withconductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagraniaand many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO will record the completesymphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.
Antoni Wit was born in Cracow in 1944 and studied there, beforebecoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw in1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was aprize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood withSkrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor first ofthe Pomeranian Philharmonic and then of the Cracow Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 hetook up the position of Artistic Director and