Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor – Martha Argerich, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim

Accompanied by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under the baton of the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, the Argentine classical pianist Martha Argerich, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time, performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23. The concert was recorded during the Salzburger Festspiele in Austria, at Großes Festspielhaus on August 14, 2019.

Although Tchaikovsky was already an accomplished composer (having already produced his first two symphonies, a string quartet, and two notable tone poems, all of these successful and enduring works), he still sought the approval of mentors such as Balakirev and Nicolas Rubinstein. On Christmas Eve 1874 he played the concerto for Rubinstein (its intended soloist) in an empty classroom. Rubinstein responded with a torrent of castigation, made famous by Tchaikovsky's own recollection. Tchaikovsky slunk off in despair. Later Rubinstein called him back and detailed a list of changes that must be made by a certain date if Rubinstein were to perform it. Tchaikovsky wrote that he responded, "I shall not change a single note, and I shall publish the concerto as it is now". He continued in his reminiscence, "And this, indeed, I did". Well, not entirely. Although there are no really substantial changes, he did subject the concerto to some minor revision before it was printed, as happens with most compositions. The premiere fell to Hans von Bülow, who played it first in Boston, October 15, 1875. The audience was enraptured and demanded a repeat of the entire final movement. Von Bülow took the concerto back to Europe, where it was quickly added to the repertoire of other leading pianists; even Rubinstein started playing it in 1878. It has been a giant success, virtually the epitome of the romantic piano concerto, ever since.

The form of the concerto is lopsided: possessing a notably large scale introduction, the broad melodies of the first movement run its length out to nearly 25 minutes, more than the length of the two remaining movements combined. Its arresting opening horn call, with bold orchestral chords interrupting, leads immediately to one of the most recognizable and beloved of classical melodies, played by strings with rich harmonic support from the piano solo. Tchaikovsky initiates a great formal surprise by going straightway into a full-fledged cadenza for the piano solo, a powerful treatment of the theme. The strings then reassert the melody in its original form – and all this is only the introduction to the first movement proper. A lengthy introduction to be sure (106 measures), but once it ends, that's the last time in the concerto this music is used in any way. The movement proper is a full-scale sonata-allegro treatment of two themes, one reputedly a Ukrainian folk theme, the other a gentle romantic theme. There is great drama and passion in its working out; when it is all over one realizes that there is also a minimum (for Tchaikovsky) of angst and pathos.

The second movement is tender, beginning with pizzicato chords so quiet as to be almost whispers. A flute melody of young adolescent tenderness is the main theme of the movement. There is a central section with a delicate waltz.

The finale opens with a rushing string figure and a powerful drum stroke. The main theme is an arresting, galloping dance made up of many short phrases. Yet another romantic theme provides contrast.

Source: Joseph Stevenson (

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

♪ Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 (1874-1875, 1879, 1888)

i. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito [00:18]*
ii. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I [21:17]
iii. Allegro con fuoco – Molto meno mosso – Allegro vivo [27:50]


Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

♪ Rondo in A major for piano four hands, Op.107 D.951 (1828)**

Allegretto quasi andantino [40:11]

Martha Argerich, piano
Daniel Barenboim, piano**

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim

Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus, Austria, August 14, 2019

(HD 720p)

* Start time of each movement

The Rondo in A major D.951 is Schubert's final work for piano four hands, written five months before his death. Schubert demonstrated one last time the inspired greatness and heartfelt beauty of melodic gifts that have never been matched in the history of music.

The work is launched with an Allegretto quasi Andantino that is effusive and tender, animated and simple, serenely cheerful as a folksong recalled from one's earliest youth. The melodic line is developed, decorated and ornamented. Inspired idea follows inspired idea, until we reach a second great subject in the dominant (E major) that will later play an imporrant role in the development section of this sonata-rondo.

Schubert transforms it, modulates to remote keys and explores distant sonorities, while at the same time holding back the most glorious climax until the coda. At the very end the rondo theme returns, overwhelmingly transformed, weighed down by a minor sixth and a ritardando, as though touched by the hand of death.

Thus Schubert ends his very last work for piano four hands, which was published one month after his death as the "Grand Rondeau" by the Viennese publisher Domenico Artaria who commissioned it from Schubert.


More photos

See also

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor – Ivan Bessonov, Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra, Dimitris Botinis (HD 1080p)

Sergei Rachmaninov: Suite No.2 for two pianos, Op.17 – Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire

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