Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos No. 1 and 3

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number 1, composed in 1874-75, is among the most popular pieces of all classical music, much less of his repertoire and it is easy sometimes to put too much emphasis on that gorgeous melody that anchors the piece and forget how intricate and beautiful the 33-minute concerto is throughout its long first movement and shorter second and third ones.  It has also been easy for some critics to dismiss it as showy, superficial and trite.

Obviously, Tchaikovsky's old-fashioned "romanticism" was increasingly at odds with the work of many of his contemporaries and the growing popularity of the concerto aroused increasing disdain among some listeners.  Yet, the work has endured and this 2003 performance by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra and soloist Konstantin Scherbakov is impressively performed and beautifully recorded.

The third piano concerto was salvaged from a symphony began by the composer in late 1891 before being abandoned.  In July 1893, Tchaikovsky reworked the first movement of the discarded work into a piano concerto, spanning sixteen minutes in a single movement.  The 53-year old maestro's untimely death in November occurred before the concerto's publication the following year. 

Moreover, one of his protégés, Sergei Taneyev, was requested by Tchaikovsky's brother, Modest, to take unfinished elements of the symphony and mold them into finished pieces.  In 1897, these were published as "Andante and Finale, Op. 79," and his nearly twenty-minute work is included in this disc, presumably because of the historical interest in linking them with the reworked concerto.  In the 1950s, a Soviet composer, Semyon Bogatyrev, examined Tchaikovsky's notes, incorporated the third piano concerto, and the Taneyev andante and finale, and put together what has been referred to as Tchaikovsky's "seventh symphony."

The concerto does not have the instantly gratifying melody of the first, nor the unity and precision of the second, but there is some breathtaking piano solo portions around the eight minute mark that demonstrate impressive virtuosity.  The andante and finale do not have as much interesting material, which obviously seems why the composer abandoned their initial drafts.  Still, the opening of the andante is hushed, contemplative and pretty and Taneyev did give plenty of room in both movements for expressive and emotive soloing, especially in more energetic and declarative finale.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:  Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 (Naxos, 2004)

1.  Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23
     Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso-Allegro con spirit  19:42
     Andantino semplice-Prestissimo-Tempo I  6:42
     Allegro con fuoco  6:54

2.  Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 75
     Allegro brilliante  16:02

3.  Andante and Finale, Op. 79 (orchestrated by Sergei Taneyev)
     Andante  11:21
     Allegro maestoso  8:31

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