TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme / BRUCH: Kol Nidrei / BLOCH: Schelomo (Chris Craker/ Gerhard Markson/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra/ Maria Kliegel) (Naxos: 8.550519)
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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Max Bruch (1838 - 1920)
Kol Nidrei, Op. 47
Ernest Bloch (1880 - 1959)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Pezzo capriccioso, Op. 62
Nocturne, Op. 19, No.4
1876 was not the most successful yearin Tchaikovsky's career. He had spent ten years teaching at the Conservatory in Moscow,after completing his own studies at the comparable institution in St. Petersburg. Hisfirst three symphonies and first piano concerto had been completed and performed, and heenjoyed already a considerable reputation at home and abroad. Nevertheless his Romeo andJuliet had been hissed by an audience in Vienna, where the critic Eduard Hanslick hadexpressed an unfavourable opinion, as later he did of the violin concerto. At the sametime the opera Vakula the Smith had not proved a popular success. Tchaikovsky's own healthwas uncertain, while social pressures were leading him into the disastrous contemplationof marriage, as an answer to problems posed by his own homosexuality.
The autumn brought the composition ofthe symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini, a drama of forbidden love based on an episode inDante's Inferno, but this was followed, towards the end of the year, by a very differentwork, the Variations on a Rococo Theme,presumably commissioned by his Conservatory colleague, the German cellist WilhelmFitzenhagen. The work, couched largely in the composer's own idiom, expresses hisadmiration for Mozart and is modestly scored for an eighteenth century orchestra, withpairs of woodwind instruments, horns and the usual complement of strings.
The Variations, to the composer'sdismay, were revised and re-ordered by Fitzenhagen, although in the end he allowed therevision to stand. A brief introduction is followed by the solo cello statement of thetheme. The first variation is in triplet rhythm, while the soloist shares the secondvariation with the orchestra. The third variation, marked Andante sostenuto, changes themood and key, restored in the fourth Andante grazioso variation. In the fifth the celloenjoys a more decorative role, while the flute maintains the theme. A cadenza leads to thesixth variation, in D minor, and the seventh, with its opportunities for technicalbrilliance.
Fitzenhagen had been the cellist inthe first performances of Tchaikovsky's three string quartets, the first of which wascomposed and performed for the first time in March 1871. He seems to have arranged theslow movement for cello and string orchestra at about the time he was working on the Pezzo capriccioso and the transcription of theNocturne from Six morceaux, Opus 19, of1873, for piano, for cello and small orchestra. The cause of this particular activityseems to have been his association during a visit to Paris with the young Russian cellistAnatoly Brandukov, a pupil of Fitzenhagen, whom Tchaikovsky found very charming. Hededicated to him the >Pezzo capriccioso, andBrandukov gave the first Russian performance of the work, not, as its title might imply, ascherzo, but music of a more romantic cast, in Moscow on 7th December 1889.
Max Bruch, two years older thanTchaikovsky, outlived him by more than a quarter of a century. Born in Cologne in 1838, heenjoyed a career as a conductor that took him as far afield as Liverpool and as a composerof choral music that enjoyed contemporary popularity. He is chiefly remembered in moderninternational repertoire for his G minor ViolinConcerto, which is widely known, and by his Scottish Fantasia, also for soloviolin and orchestra. Kol Nidrei is probably the best known of the shorter instrumentalpieces Bruch wrote. It is an Adagio on Hebrew themes, published in 1881 in Berlin, whereten years later the composer was appointed professor at the Academy, with responsibilityfor the composition master-class. The title, which means "All the vows", istaken from a prayer used on the Day of Atonement.
Hebraic Rhapsody, Schelomo (Solomon), was completedin 1916 and has an even closer affinity with music familiar from the synagogue, with whichBruch had only a second-hand acquaintance. Born in Geneva, Bloch moved to the UnitedStates of America in 1916 and was to establish himself there as above all a Jewishcomposer, although his music is by no means limited to this mode of composition, exploringas it does a more varied melodic and harmonic language than this might imply.
Maria Kliegel achieved significantsuccess in 1981, when she was awarded the Grand Prix in the Rostropovich Competition. Bornin Dillenburg, Germany, she began learning the cello at the age of ten and first came topublic attention five years later, when, as a student at the Hoch Conservatory inFrankfurt, she twice won first prize in the Jugend Musiziert competition. She laterstudied in America with Janos Starker, serving as his assistant, and subsequently appearedin a phenomenal series of concerts in America, Switzerland and France, with Rostropovichas conductor. She has since then enjoyed an international career of growing distinction asa soloist and recitalist, offering an amazingly wide repertoire, ranging from Bach andVieuxtemps to the contemporary.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
The RTE Symphony Orchestra was foundedin 1947 as part of the Radio and Television service in Ireland. With its membership comingfrom France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Russia, it drew together a richblend of European culture. Apart from its many symphony concerts, the orchestra came toworld-wide attention with its participation in the famous Wexford Opera Festival, an eventbroadcast in many parts of the world. The orchestra now enjoys the facilities of a finenew concert hall in central Dublin, where it performs with the world's leading conductorsand soloists. In 1990 the RTE Symphony Orchestra was augmented and renamed the NationalSymphony Orchestra of Ireland. Under its Principal Conductor, George Hurst, it quicklyestablished itself as one of Europe's most adventurous orchestras with programmesfeaturing many 20th century compositions. The orchestra has now embarked upon an extensiverecording project for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels and will record music by Nielsen,Tchaikovsky, Goldmark, Rachmaninov, Brian and Scriabin.
The conductor Gerhard Markson studiedwith Karl Maria Zwissler, Igor Markevitch and Franco Ferrara and spent 1975 as assistantto Markevitch at the Weimar International Conducting Course. He is now Assistant MusicDirector at the Freiburg Theatre. He makes frequent guest appearances as conductor in theopera-house and concert hall, including performances at the Hamburg State Opera, theBavarian Opera in Munich, Stuttgart Opera, and with the South West German Radio Orchestrain Baden-Baden. In early 1989 he organised the project Russian Tradition and SovietContemporary Music, which included some seventy events over a period of six weeks, withperformances of works from Borodin to Schnittke and Gubaidulina. He conducted the firstperformance of Dmitry Smirnov's opera Tiriel
in a series of performances that opened with Alfred Schnittke's Cello Concerto, in which the soloist was MariaKliegel.