TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 / The Storm (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550716)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No.5 in E Minor, Op. 64
The Storm (Groza), Op. 76
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 instabilityand 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 break-down.
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.
As a composer Tchaikovsky represented a happy synthesis of theWest European or German school of composition, represented in Russia by his teacher AntonRubinstein, and the Russian nationalists, led by the impossibly aggressive Balakirev. FromRubinstein Tchaikovsky learned his technique, while Balakirev attempted time and again tobully him into compliance with his own ideals. To the nationalists Tchaikovsky may haveseemed relatively foreign. His work, after all, lacked the primitive crudity thatsometimes marked their compositions. Nevertheless acceptance abroad was not universal.
The Fifth Symphony
was written in 1888, and regarded by Tchaikovsky with his usual critical diffidence.
"Having played my symphony twice in St. Petersburg and once in Prague, I have decidedit is a failure. There is something repellent in it, some over-exaggerated colour, someinsincerity of invention, which the public instinctively recognises", he wrote, in aletter to Nadezhda von Meck. The work was first performed in St. Petersburg under thecomposer's direction on 17th November, 1888, and repeated a week later. It achievedconsiderable success, in spite of the reservations of some critics, and was to formpart of the programme to be conducted by the composer in Moscow and on a tour of Europe.
While the Fifth Symphony has no declared programme,Tchaikovsky's own notes suggest that some personal extra-musical ideas were in his mind:"Introduction. Complete resignation before Fate, or, which is the same, before theinscrutable decrees of Providence. Allegro (I) Murmurs, doubts, lamentations, reproachesagainst XXX. (II) Shall I throw myself into the arms of Faith??" A"Providence" or "Fate" theme introduces the symphony and re-appears,in one form or another, in all four movements.
Ostrovsky's play The Storm,written in 1859, is set in a Russian provincial town and deals with the tragedy of theyoung woman Katerina, married to a man dominated by his mother and then in love withanother, to whom she gives herself, during the absence of her husband on business.
Terrified by a storm, she admits her guilt to her husband, and then is driven by hermother-in-law to drown herself in the Volga. The play was the later source of Janacek'sopera Kat'a Kabanova. Elements of thestory are used by Tchaikovsky in his Overture to the play, written in the summer of 1860.
The folk-song of the introduction leads to a subject that prefigures the storm, followedby a suggestion of Katerina's illicit love, in a tripartite sonata-allegro form. Theconflict in Katerina's heart is reflected in the central development, while the finalrecapitulation culminates in storm and death.
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 returned to 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 Principal Conductor of the Polish NationalRadio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has undertaken many engagements abroadwith major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and ScottishSymphony Orchestras to the Kusat