TCHAIKOVSKY FESTIVAL SYMPHONY NO. 4
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|Friday, January 8, 2016 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no. 2 in G major, op. 44 (approx. 37 min.)
Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 4 in F minor, op. 36 (approx. 44 min.)
Celebrated Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky returns to the OSM performing Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Second Piano Concerto, paired in this concert with the great Symphony no. 4.
So popular is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B-flat minor that one commonly speaks of it as “the” Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. But in fact he wrote two more (the third incomplete). Tonight’s audience is afforded the rare opportunity to hear a performance of one of the least-known orchestral works by one of the world’s most famous composers. Alongside it is one of Tchaikovsky’s best-known works, the thrilling Fourth Symphony, composed amidst a major crisis in his life, and infused with the motif of “fate.”
PIOTR ILITCH TCHAÏKOVSKI
Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840 – Died in Saint Petersburg, November 6, 1893
Piano Concerto no. 2 in G major, op. 44
Concertgoers familiar with the circumstances surrounding the composition of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto may recall that when the composer played it for the renowned pianist and teacher Nicolai Rubinstein, in a room at the Moscow Conservatory just after it was completed, Rubinstein was brutally scathing in his criticism. Tchaikovsky was deeply hurt, withdrew the dedication to Rubinstein, and bestowed it instead on Hans von Bülow, who premiered the concerto in far-away Boston in 1875. Four years later, Tchaikovsky began writing his second concerto. In the interim, Rubinstein had come to appreciate the earlier work, and was now championing it all around Europe. Tchaikovsky had forgiven him for his intemperance, and now wished to dedicate his new concerto to the revered master. Rubinstein requested the honor of giving the first performance, but died before this could take place.
As with the First Concerto, the Second was given its premiere in the United States. Madeleine Schiller was soloist with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Theodore Thomas, on November 12, 1881. Sergei Taneyev was the soloist for the first Russian performance in Moscow several months later. (Taneyev also gave the first Russian performance of the First Concerto.)
The majestic, march-like opening theme is first proclaimed by the full orchestra, then repeated by the soloist, thus setting a pattern that will prevail throughout much of the concerto: the alternation of soloist and orchestra, rather than the integration of the two. Indeed, one of the most prominent features of the work, and of the opening movement especially, is the number and length of passages for the unaccompanied piano. In the first movement alone, we find three long cadenzas, the third of which spans over one hundred measures of music (nearly a movement in itself!), in addition to numerous shorter passages for the piano alone or minimally accompanied. The passionately lyrical second theme, initiated by a solo clarinet and horn, is strikingly similar to the one that haunts the Letter Scene in the opera Eugene Onegin, composed about the same time.
The second movement is often referred to as music for a “triple concerto,” inasmuch as the solo violin and solo cello are as prominent throughout as the piano. Nevertheless, the three soloists seldom play together, and, as in the first movement, the piano tends to remain segregated, not only from the orchestra, but from the other two soloists as well.
The high-spirited finale is constructed on a variant of sonata-rondo form, and is redolent of fiery Russian peasant dances. Torrents of notes, thundering chords and swirling arpeggios for the soloist keep the virtuoso quotient at a feverish pitch of excitement as the concerto rushes to its exhilarating close.
Symphony no. 4 in F minor, op. 36
Love, grief, crisis and destiny were favorite themes of the 19th-century Romantic composers, and nowhere in Tchaikovsky’s life do they occur more dramatically than in the year 1877. This was the year in which he became involved with a neurotic young music student named Antonina Milioukova, made the disastrous mistake of marrying her, left her following a brief period, attempted suicide shortly thereafter and concurrently with all this, entered into that extraordinary relationship with Mme Nadezhka von Meck, the wealthy patroness whom Tchaikovsky was never to meet but with whom he exchanged what is perhaps the most famous body of correspondence in the history of music. In 1877 he also wrote his Fourth Symphony. Unavoidably bound up in its creation were the external events of that fateful year.
Tchaikovsky admitted to Mme von Meck that the whole affair with Antonina had been a farce, and that she was “a woman with whom I am not the least in love.” Fate was to blame for bringing them together, he firmly believed. After separating from his bride, Tchaikovsky fled to Switzerland and Italy, where he eventually recovered sufficiently to finish the symphony. The first performance took place in Moscow on February 22, 1878. Some close friends and associates criticized the symphony, but Tchaikovsky did not especially care. Another crisis in his life had passed.
An imperious, strident fanfare opens the symphony. This motif has often been linked to “Fate,” and reasserts itself at significant structural points throughout the movement. Following the fanfare introduction, Tchaikovsky introduces one of his most interesting themes: violins and cellos present a sad, languid line, in movimento di valse, full of pathos, gloom, and rhythmic irregularities, rocking restlessly back and forth, sliding downward in bleak despair, then upward in renewed hope. Woodwinds then repeat the long theme. Tchaikovsky’s love of contrast can be observed in the second main theme, introduced by the clarinet in the highly unusual key of A-flat minor and continued by the cellos in B major. Here the rhythm is more secure, the melody more tuneful, the mood lilting and comforting. The harsh reality of fate has been replaced by tender visions and dreams.
To offset the harrowing dramas and intense turbulence of the long first movement, Tchaikovsky follows it with music of lonely melancholy and nostalgia. His choice of the plaintive sound of the oboe to present the principal theme represents still another example of his sure mastery of tone color.
The Scherzo brings a completely new sonority – the entire string section playing pizzicato (plucked) in an effect reminiscent of a balalaika orchestra. This moto perpetuo is suddenly interrupted by an oboe playing a tune that suggested to the composer the ditty of a drunken sailor. Then comes still a third timbral block, the brass, softly intoning military music as if from the distance (Tchaikovsky’s description).
Anyone who has dozed off during the Scherzo is going to be rudely awakened by the finale’s explosive, brashly sensational opening. The second idea is presented almost immediately by the woodwinds – a variant of the popular Russian folksong “In the field stood a birch.” The riotous, festive mood returns for the third theme, a quick, march- like affair hammered out by the full orchestra accompanied by plenty of drums and cymbals. Tchaikovsky repeats, develops and combines these three ideas in multifarious ways. The movement’s irresistible momentum pauses only long enough for an intrusion of the “Fate” motif. But this is quickly dispelled, and the symphony roars to a deliriously joyful conclusion amidst orchestral fireworks and blazing sonorities.
© Robert Markow
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