Lang Lang in recital
Larry & Cookie Rossy Family Foundation Artist-in-Residence
|Friday, March 13, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
Bach, Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971
Tchaikovsky, The Seasons, Op. 37a
Chopin, Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20
Chopin, Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31
Chopin, Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39
Chopin, Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54
Lang Lang, not much past thirty, is a veritable icon of the piano world. Known for his flamboyant style and for his interpretations of Chopin and Liszt, he delivers to his audiences performances of overpowering emotion. Highly giving of himself on stage, he has over the past few years shown an eagerness to collaborate in a number of unusual projects. An artist to be seen as well as heard!
Lang Lang’s recital is framed by music central to every pianist’s repertory, written by men who in their own time were outstanding keyboard artists themselves. The central work comes from a composer (Tchaikovsky) whose First Piano Concerto may well be the most popular on the planet, but whose shorter piano pieces unaccountably remain on the fringes of the repertory.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Born in Eisenach, March 21, 1685
Died in Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Italian Concerto, BWV 971
Published in Nürnberg in 1735, Bach’s Italian Concerto seeks to employ a single keyboard instrument as both soloist and orchestra in the manner of the standard Italian concerto grosso form. (Exactly a century later, Schumann attempted the same task using sonata form in his Piano Sonata No. 3, subtitled “Concerto without Orchestra.”) Bach’s example was not a novelty, but the success was such that the work elicited much praise. One contemporary, Johann Adolf Scheibe, wrote in 1739: “I must briefly mention that concertos are also written for one instrument alone, without any accompaniment by others ̶ especially clavier concertos or lute concertos. In such pieces, the basic structure is kept the same as in concertos for many instruments. … Pre-eminent among published musical works is a clavier concerto of which the author is the famous Bach in Leipzig.”
Bach was able to simulate the effect of solo and tutti passages on a single instrument through the use of two keyboards, each with a different sonority. Today’s pianists must recreate this effect through contrasts of dynamics, touch, articulation and other means. In the opening movement of a typical concerto grosso of Vivaldi, Corelli and their Italian contemporaries, the string body presented a melodic subject at the outset, which returned in fragments throughout the movement in alternation with contrasting episodes from the soloist. The central slow movement of Bach’s work is, also like the Italian concerti grossi of the day, akin to an operatic aria, in which the solo voice sings a long-breathed cantilena over a discreet accompaniment. Bach’s final movement is a brilliant technical display.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840
Died in Sain Petersburg, November 6, 1893
The Seasons, Op. 37bis
January – By the Hearth (Moderato semplice ma espressivo)
February – Carnival (Allegro giusto)
March ̶ Song of the Lark (Andantino espressivo)
April ̶ Snowdrop (Allegretto con moto e un poco rubato)
May – Starlit Night (Andantino)
June ̶ Barcarolle (Andante cantabile)
July – Song of the Reaper (Allegro moderato con moto)
August – Harvest Song (Allegro vivace)
September – The Hunt (Allegro non troppo)
October – Autumnal Song (Andante doloroso e molto cantabile)
November – In the Troika (Allegro moderato)
December ̶ Yuletide (Tempo di valse)
Perhaps the least unknown of Tchaikovsky’s one hundred or so miniatures for piano are those in the collection known in the west, mistakenly, as The Seasons, though a mere glance at the titles will reveal that in fact they should be, as Tchaikovsky originally called them in Russian, The Months.
Late in 1875, the editor of a Saint Petersburg music journal called Nuvellist conceived the idea of asking a famous composer to write a series of short piano pieces intended for amateurs, to be included in each monthly issue of the journal over the course of 1876. Tchaikovsky, not particularly fond of the miniature, obliged mostly because he was in need of money (the famous relationship he was to establish with the wealthy patroness Nadejda von Meck being still two years in the future). Years later, he referred to these pieces as “musical pancakes tossed off.” Sometime after the twelve pieces were published individually, Tchaikovsky took them to his regular publisher Jurgenson, who brought them out as Op. 37bis, or 37a (Op. 37 is the Grand Sonata in G major). The first publication in an English-language edition improperly called the work The Seasons, and the title stuck.
Born in Zelazowa Wola, Poland, March 1, 1810
Died in Paris, October 17, 1849
The Four Scherzos
No. l in B Minor, Op. 20
No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31
No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39
No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54
It was Beethoven who firmly fixed the scherzo in musical terminology as a movement type, usually moving in fast triple meter and in ternary form (ABA).Yet even a cursory examination of the eight scherzos in Beethoven’s symphonies (all but the Eighth contain one in name or in kind) reveals an astonishing range of character and emotional implications, from the gruff humor of the Second to the mysterious workings of the Fifth, from the lighthearted joy of the Sixth and Seventh to the merciless oppression of the Ninth. As men of genius are wont to do, the original conception of a word was bent to accommodate artistic license, resulting in the term serving the composer, not the other way around. Chopin inherited Beethoven’s freedom of approach, and his own four magnificent scherzos for solo piano display the same variety, intensity of emotion and power of expression as Beethoven’s, resulting in music that is far from the lighthearted jests or jokes implied by their titles. In fact, as a group, the Scherzos represent some of the most virile and dramatically powerful creations in Chopin’s output.
Franz Liszt characterized Chopin’s scherzos as follows: “Muted passion and suppressed rage are encountered in passage after passage of the Scherzos, portraying distilled exasperation, dominated by a sense of hopelessness, now ironic, now proud.” One need not agree with the details of Liszt’s appraisal to sense that these scherzos are far from lightweight “jokes.” To Ludwig Kusche, “the four Scherzos are as dissimilar from one another as pieces can be which share the same title. No one can say why they are all described as Scherzos. An out-and-out romantic might have given them the collective title ‘Volcanic Eruptions.’”
Nowhere in the Scherzos of Chopin is the notion of “volcanic eruptions” more apt than in the outer parts of the B minor Scherzo (1832) Two forceful chords, each isolated at different ends of the keyboard, immediately seize the listener’s attention and launch the work into its dizzying display of pianistic pyrotechnics. After the fury has spent itself, the music settles into a quiet, infinitely tender passage built on the melody of a Polish carol, Lulajze Jezuniu (Sleep, Baby Jesus) embedded in the gently rocking figuration. Like electric shocks, the two chords that opened the Scherzo intrude, jolting the listener from the mood of the gently caressing music and returning him to the renewed energy and fury of the opening material.
The Scherzo in B-flat minor (1837) has long been one of the composer’s most popular and frequently performed compositions. Like the first, it opens with an irresistible call to attention. Herbert Weinstock describes the architecture of this work as “… a gently curving, uneven, archlike pattern that brings out the whole expressiveness latent in Chopin’s melodic, rhythmic and harmonic ideas. It succeeds because its succession gratifies progressively the expectations that it arouses. … It balances, it will not collapse, and it gives, as masterly buildings give, a sense of simultaneously being solid on the ground and soaring upward easily and aptly.”
In the C-sharp minor Scherzo (1839), passages of restless, even feverish agitation alternate with chorale-like progressions, each progression ending in a gentle sprinkle of descending broken chords.
The E-major Scherzo (1842) is the longest of the four, the only one in a major key, and the only one that is essentially good-natured and light-hearted in spirit, undramatic in nature. Even in the more serious episode in C-sharp minor, one can still perceive smiles through the tears.
© Robert Markow
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