TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3

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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky retains his position as the mostpopular of all Russian composers. His music offers obvious superficial charmsin its winning melodies and vivid orchestral colours. At the same time hisachievement is deeper than this, however tempting it may be to despise what somany people continue to enjoy.

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 ageof ten he was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg,completing his studies there in 1859, to take employment in the Ministry ofJustice. During these years he developed his abilities as a musician and it musthave seemed probable that, like his near contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui,Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, he would keep music as a secondary occupation,while following his official career.

For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. Thefoundation of the new Conservatory of Music in St Petersburg under AntonRubinstein enabled him to study there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865he moved to Moscow as a member of the staff of the new Conservatory establishedthere by Anton Rubinstein's brother Nikolay. For over ten years he continued inMoscow, 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 mentalinstability and could only add further to Tchaikovsky's own problems ofcharacter and inclination. His homosexuality was a torment to him, while hismorbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with physical revulsion for thewoman 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 withNadezhda von Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first wasnecessary for his career, but also the understanding and support of a womanwho, so far from making physical demands of him, never even met him face toface. This curiously remote liaison and patronage only came to an end in 1890,when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, she discontinued an allowance that wasno longer of importance and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.

Tchaikovsky's sudden death in St Petersburg in 1893 gave riseto contemporary speculation and has provoked further posthumous rumours. It hasbeen suggested that he committed suicide as the result of pressure from a courtof honour of former students of the School of Jurisprudence, when an allegedlyerotic liaison with a young nobleman seemed likely to cause an open scandaleven in court circles. Officially his death was attributed to cholera,contracted after drinking undistilled water, and there are detailed reports onthe progress of the illness, however caused. Whether the victim of cholera, ofhis own carelessness or reckless despair, or of death deliberately courted,Tchaikovsky was widely mourned.

Tchaikovsky wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minortowards the end of 1874 and played it through to Nikolay Rubinstein, directorof the Moscow Conservatory, on Christmas Eve, 5th January 1875 in Westerndating, seeking advice on the lay-out of the solo part. Rubinstein's responsewas one of utter and devastating condemnation. The concerto was worthless andunplayable, with trite and awkward passages, bad, tawdry and borrowed.Tchaikovsky, diffident at the best of times, was appalled by this reaction,which he took personally, later attributing it to Rubinstein's petty tyranny.Nevertheless the work survived, with a successful first performance by Hans vonB??low in Boston in October, followed by a performance in St Petersburg and amore successful performance in Moscow under Nikolay Rubinstein, with thecomposer's young pupil Sergey Taneyev as the soloist. Rubinstein later took thework into his own conert piano repertoire. Its immediate reception was mixed.The concerto has gone on, however, to arouse popular enthusiasm, and, inconsequence, occasional critical disdain, the latter stemming largely from the widepopularity of the work and, not least, from the brood of lesser concertos thatit has in part inspired. Tchaikovsky contemplated dedicating the concerto toTaneyev, but eventually decided to show his gratitude with a dedication to Hansvon B??low. Various revisions were made before publication in 1879 and againbefore a further publication of the work in 1889 in which the familiar openingpiano chords were differently arranged over a wider range of the keyboard andwithout arpeggiation.

The first movement starts with an opening section in therelative major key of D flat and originally marked Andante non troppo e moltomaestoso, with the first word later modified to Allegro. This very memorableintroduction is followed by the exposition, marked Allegro con spirito. Herethe first subject, derived from a Ukrainian folk-song, leads to a more lyricalsecond subject, introduced by the orchestra and taken up by the soloist, beforethe orchestra moves to the second part of the subject. This material provides thesubstance of the central development and the recapitulation, which includes awritten cadenza. The slow movement has a gently lilting first theme, introducedby the flute, and includes, at its centre, a scherzo-like Prestissimo, based ona French tune, Il faut s'amuser et rire. The finale starts with a theme basedon a Ukrainian folk-song and a secondary element, both of which are fullyexploited in a conclusion of great brilliance.

Late in 1891 Tchaikovsky began to sketch a new symphony,completing it in outline, only to reject the work. In June 1893 he was inLondon, where he met again the pianist Louis Di?¿mer and conducted a performanceof his Fourth Symphony. He travelled on to Cambridge, where he was awarded adoctorate at a ceremony in which Saint-Sa?½ns and Bruch received the samehonour, returning briefly to London and thence to Paris. From there he made hisway back, through Switzerland and Austria, to Russia, first to the Konradifamily estate at Grankino, where he worked on the first movement of the newconcerto, before returning finally to his house at Klin. His decision to usehis discarded symphony as the basis of a piano concerto was suggested by hisrenewal of acquaintance with Louis Di?¿mer, for whom the work was intended. Hecompleted the first movement in July, and then resolved to leave it as asingle-movement concert piece, and Allegro de concert. He had for some timerelied on the judgement of Taneyev, who found the piano part lacking invirtuosity. Nevertheless Tchaikovsky apparently continued with the project,using the slow movement and finale of the symphony as possible sketches for asecond and third movement, the Andante and Finale, Op. 79, revised and scoredby Taneyev after the composer's death, and published in 1897.

The first subject of the planned concerto is heard from thebassoon, followed at once by the soloist, who is later entrusted with thestatement of the opening of the second subject group, in G major. The centraldevelopment is followed by a cadenza based on the second subject, before thefinal recapitulation. The orchestra introduces the B flat major slow movement,leading to the chordal entry of the soloist with material that is laterelaborated. The work ends with a forthright finale, for which, as for theAndante, Tan
Item number 8557257
Barcode 747313225729
Release date 03/01/2004
Category Piano
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Scherbakov, Konstantin
Scherbakov, Konstantin
Composers Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich
Conductors Yablonsky, Dmitry
Yablonsky, Dmitry
Orchestras Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Producers Doronina, Lubov
Doronina, Lubov
Disc: 1
Andante and Finale, Op.79 (orch. S. Taneyev)
1 I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso - Allegro c
2 Andantino semplice - Prestissimo - Tempo I
3 Allegro con fuoco
4 Allegro brillante
5 Andante
6 Allegro Maestoso
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