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Category: Tchaikowsky

“Symphony no 6 in B minor, opus 54” – Dmitri Shostakovich


Great Expectations. USSR pavilion on 1939 New York World’s Fair (1939) 

    Veniamin Kremer


 “I hope that these few preparatory words 
can give you an insight that may permit 
you to experience this strangely 
heterogeneous work as a single entity, 
flashpoint in musical history”, says
Leonard Bernstein, somewhat, 
admittedly, grandiloquently, in an indeed
thrilling introduction to Shostakovich’s
Sixth Symphony in B minor, opus 54

that he reiterates several of the points 
that I earlier brought up does me no
disservice, coming especially from a
person of such high quality, pedigree, 
in the musical world, I’m abashed, 
bashful, indeed blushing, that my 
humble insights have been so 
eminently corroborated

but I cannot second his enthusiasm
for Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony
a failed, to my mind, entity, a long 
introductory lament that lingered 
long after its “best before” date, 
followed by indifferent, though 
perhaps energetic, yet unrelated,
final movements, the instrumentation 
might be, admittedly, brilliant, the 
Shostakovichian precise array of 
sounds, but the sum is less than the 
parts, I think, I took home only 
confusion, as did the crowd, 
apparently, at its first presentation, 
Leningrad, November 21, 1939,
Mravinsky conducting, wow, an
even more convincing argument,
maybe, than Bernstein’s, however 
rousing, interpretation

for your information, I’ve included
Tchaikovsky’s Sixthaccording to
Bernstein intimately related, he 
explains, to Shostakovich’s Sixth

you’ll note how different, however, 
these two symphonies are compared 
to how similar in so many respects 
Beethoven’s and Shostakovich’s 
Fifths are, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth is
manifestly more Romantic than

but imagine Tchaikovsky starting and 
ending with an adagio, how audacious, 
daring, though not particularly efficient, 
I think, not especially successful, the 
adagio lamentoso seems to me 
anticlimactic after the vigorous allegro 
molto vivacewhich receives a 
thunderous applause, the last 
movement, the lamentoso, however 
lovely, doesn’t rise to the heights of a 
proper finale for this forerunner’s
contagious ebullience, sounds rather 
like an encore, melodramatic and a bit 

or maybe I’m just getting cranky

sooner or later though, the conundrum 
of adagio bookends will be resolved, 
someone inevitably will do it, like
finding the square on the hypotenuse, 
unearthing warped space, discovering 
a way to recapture carbon dioxide and 
make it work for us, as trees would do 
if we let them, someone always exceeds, 
miraculously, our expectations, watch 
for it, dare I say, here

R ! chard


Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 1, opus 10


     “Portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich (1963) 

             Martiros Sarian


after being transfixed, rendered aquiver, by
this mesmerizing conductor in a performance
I can only remember for his magnetism, 
expressive fingers performing arabesques of 
such exquisite sensitivity, eyes that melt, 
light up, gleam, glitter, at every ebb and flow 
of the turbulent, towering, music, eyebrows 
that, blonde, cherubic, angelic, display with 
manifest intention, the spiritual implications 
of every musical turn, a youth only, in my 
senescent estimation, taking on the conquest 
of the 21st-Century world, lately installed as 
conductor, most illustriously, of both the 
Royal Liverpool, in 2005, and the Oslo, in 
2011, Philharmonics

Vasily Petrenko led me back to Shostakovich,
after his monumental Tchaikovsky 5th,
whereupon I’ve undertaken a chronological 
review of all Shostakovich’s symphonies, 
something I did long ago with Beethoven’s 
sonatas, to my great cultural advantage, it 
was a journey that informed me not only 
intellectually but, even more significantly, 
spiritually, taught me about patience, tumult, 
and the wisdom, even glory, one acquires in 
resignation, so long as you hold onto your 
principles, your core 

you look back, I told a man once, and you 
see what you’ve come through, and you 
are proud, you recognize the hero that 
you are, or weren’t

we have only our poise and grace to lend 
to the world, or our venom and invective

but I digress

here’s Shostakovich, his First, in a line 
of Shostakovichian explorations

if you’ll join me

R ! chard

on “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan” – Nobuyuki Tsujii


    Tsunami (1998) 

         Jacek Yerka


while watching Nobuyuki Tsujii play the
extraordinarily demanding Tchaikovsky 
First Piano Concerto on television the 
other night, with no less than Valery
Gergiev, conducting the resident 
orchestra at the Mariinsky Theatre in 
Moscow, for its White NightsI was 
wonderstruck by the challenges a 
visually handicapable pianist would 
have to conquer in order to reach 
such an apogee 

everything must be learned by ear, all
items must be discovered tactually, 
from the piano itself to the very 
individual keys, not to mention 
the player’s very own fingers

there can be no visual contact with a 
conductor, either, for cues, for 
instance, nor for any other 
accompaniment, for neither even an 
audience, it would all take place in 
the dark recesses of the head, the 
amorphous and, I suppose, 
confounding, cerebellum

later he played for an encore his own 
composition, Elegy for the Victims of
the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan“,
a fine addition to my budding collection 
of threnodies

and a very, very moving piece

an elegy, incidentally, is usually written,
while a threnody is composed, but these 
terms are often used interchangeably, as, 
indeed, they are here

you’ll note the utterly Classical mode of
composition of the Elegy“, it adheres to  
a uniform tonality, a consistent tempo, 
and the grounding and comfort of 
repetition, returning always to the main, 
endearing air, rather than more modern 
tripwires and stridencies, traditionalism 
being not an inappropriate, nor ineffective,
mode of address for honoured forebears 

long live Classicism


R ! chard

“First Piano Concerto” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky


      “Concerto (1975) 

               Jack Bush


if there’s a piece that defines Classical music
for most people, encapsulates it, even for 
those who aren’t especially interested in 
Classical music, that piece would be, I think,
Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto

strictly speaking Tchaikovsky isn’t a Classical
composer, but a Romantic one, the Classical 
period in music having been transformed 
some years earlier into the Romantic period
by none other than Beethoven1770 – 1827, 
perhaps the most transformative composer 
of all time – Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto
was written in the winter of 1874 – 1875, pretty
well at the end of the Romantic Period, which 
then ceded to the Impressionists, just to get 
our periods right

what the Romantic Period added to the 
Classical Era was emotion, sentiment – note 
the use of tenuto, for instance, beats being 
drawn out, languidly, longingly, for pathos – 
what it maintained was the structure, the 
trinity of Classical conditions, rhythm, tonality, 
and repetition, which is why even the most 
uninformed listener will usually be able to 
sing along throughout the entire performance
the blueprint is in our collective blood, in the 
DNA of our culture

to remain present a piece must remain 
relevant to the promoter, an interpreter must
have reason to play it, substance surely plays 
a big part, but technical considerations play 
perhaps an even greater role towards a great
work’s longevityChopsticks“, for instance, 
is good but it won’t fill a concert hall  

unless, of course, it’s with Liberace

the “First Piano Concerto” of Tchaikovsky is 
the Everest of compositions, emotionally
complex and technically forbidding, nearly 
impossible, it would seem, were it not for 
those few who’ve mastered its treacherous 
challenges, conquered its nearly indomitable  

Van Cliburn put it on the map for my 
generation, with a ticker tape parade in 
New York to confirm it

Martha Argerich later on kept the ball rolling

and now Behzod Abduraimov, a mere youth, 
born in 1990 in UzbekistanTashkent, delivers 
by far the best performance I’ve seen since,
giving it new life for the new millenium
behold, be moved, be dazzled, be bewitched  

Behzod Abduraimov, watch


October, 2015‏

 "October" - Efim Volkov

October (1883)

Efim Volkov


it’s the 3rd of October already, we’ve
slipped nearly imperceptibly, I’ve found,
into this new month, the days here are
crisp, if not cold, the leaves, not yet
fallen, are nevertheless bristling bright
orange, red, and gold, mustard, crimson,
and deep purple actually, in spotty
patches among the still prevalent greens
holding on determinedly to their extra
share of summer

nothing much more from me about this
otherwise unexceptional month, apart
from the introspection inherent in the
painting above
, offered for your

and this wonderful piece from Tchaikovsky’s
The Seasons, its October: Autumn Song,
including this epigraph of Tolstoy from its
first Russian edition

“Autumn, our poor garden is falling down,
the yellowed leaves are flying on the wind.”

for your rapture




today our building manager left a
chocolate on each of our doors


“Pohádka” (“Fairytale”) – Leoš Janáček

"Fairy Lake" - Martiros Saryan

Fairy Lake (1905)

Martiros Saryan


for the recital season coming up,
my friend, the musicologist, has
once again been called upon to
write reviews of featured pieces

out of giddy exhilaration at his
playful essays, he sent me
several draughts he’d already
composed around piano and
cello pieces, of mostly familiar
enough faces, Schumann,
Beethoven, Strauss, but of Leoš
I’d only heard mention,
none ever of his compositions

his Pohádka“, or Fairytale“, is
a programmatic piece, which
means it accompanies a story,
like a soundtrack does a movie,
but Pohádka is based on a tale
of Vasily Zhukovsky, a Russian
epic poet, and is not accompanied
by a film, nor a ballet for that
matter – see “The Nutcracker” or
“Sleeping Beauty” for that – but
lives and breathes on its own

Kashchei, Lord of the Underworld,
objects to the union of his daughter
with a charming prince, represented
here by the piano and the cello

they run away and find refuge with
another potentate who prefers the
prince for his own daughter, and
casts a spell on him so that the
prince may love her, instead of
Maria, the princess, which he does

Maria, forsaken, in a pique at this
turn of events, turns into a blue

o, to turn into a blue flower
whenever I’m in a pique, I thought,
I only wish, and succumbed
forthwith to the improbable story

the spell is lifted, however, from
both, of course, however much I
might prefer to remain a blue iris,
say, anemone, or hyacinth, when a
magician, don’t ask, turns up to
set everything aright, and they
live happily ever after

the version you’ll hear is
transposed for piano and double
bass, a somewhat deeper, thrilling
register, or that may be just the
bassist, but the magic entirely
remains, if it isn’t completely
enhanced, rendered definitive
by this superb performance

my friend says Janáček has
neither musical forebears, nor
descendants, but composes in
a world of his own, an utterly
enchanted world, I surmised

what do you think

listen, just click



“con moto”, by the way, means
“with conviction”

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Daniel Kharitonov, ll‏

Daniel Kharitonov

Daniel Kharitonov


there ‘ve been extraordinary
performances since Maria Mazo‘s
defining reinvention of Mozart’s
21st Piano Concerto
, the “Elvira
Madigan”, at the XVth International
Tchaikovsky Competition
, worthy
of, believe me, fruitful commentary,
but for the sake of brevity and, of
course, indiscretion, I’ve refrained
from going on and on, and on,
about however many of them, all,
nevertheless, quite outstanding

but before even the end of Daniel
‘s final and deciding
performance, of Tchaikovsky’s
indomitable 1st Piano Concerto,
followed by whatever by Liszt,
he has, like Maria Mazo, here
given us a new standard for
hearing these indelible musical
epics, she takes over from
Mitsuko Uchida, goddess of
Mozart, he takes over from very
Van Cliburn, you’ve got to go
back to 1958 to have heard
this commanding thunder

Kharitonov is sixteen, a bud
becoming a flower

wow, no matter who wins


psst: his Liszt, incidentally, will
restore your faith in Liszt

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Maria Mazo, ll‏

"Elvira Madigan"

a still from the movie “Elvira Madigan


there’s been a second round of
recitals, enough to make you
weary of sonatas, unless you’re
stalwart, devoted, primed

the prizes have been awarded,
the results posted at the site,
so that any mystery, excitement,
has been chilled, had you been
in any way excited about your

they certainly rained on my

by now most of my favourites
have gone down, others have
been perfunctory, to my mind,
but three, which surely I’ll
cover, but presently let me
start with Maria Mazo, a
wonder, who’d wowed me
earlier with her
transcendental Beethoven

here, with an orchestra, she
takes on a monument of the
20th Century, Mozart’s 21st
Piano Concerto, better known
since the mid-20th Century as
the theme to the movie,
Elvira Madigan, a forgotten
film now, however enchanting,
but this is where a generation
learned about Mozart

Maria Mazo sets the new
standard here, this is how
you’ll hear this concerto from
now on, it is magical, it is
mystical, it is extraordinary,
it’s right up there with the
greatest, who are presently
handing over to her our
musical reins

thank you, Mitsuko Uchida,
with the greatest admiration

strangely Maria Mazo didn’t
even place

who could ‘a’ ever thunk it


at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Dmitry Masleev‏

"Portrait of the Composer Sergei Rachmaninov" -  Konstantin Somov

Portrait of the Composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1925)

Konstantin Somov


after two superb performances on
the last day, June 20, of the Round
1 competitions, I expected to close
up shop, not listen to another
deserving competitor, skipped a
trio of competent but otherwise
uninteresting contenders, and
readied to quickly go on to the
second round nominations

Dmitry Masleev, the very last
performer, wasn’t to go down,
however, without a fight, wowed
me, despite my initial sceptical air
he delivered from the beginning an
unimpeachable Bach, followed by
a “Farewell” Sonata to rival Shino
‘s, my queen, from there it
was nowhere but up, his final
Rachmaninov dotted the i’s,
crossed the t’s, of his brilliance,
a fitting hiatus to a powerful
and significant showdown



at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Shino Hidaka

  "The Musical Contest" -  Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Musical Contest (1754-5)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard


with only four contestants to go,
I already crown Shino Hidaka the
winner of the XVth Tchaikovsky
, this kind of affinity
only comes around once in a
lifetime, her Bach was not only
perfect but inspired, probing,
her ensuing Chopin,
mesmerizing, the Beethoven
that followed aptly, though ever
unexpectedly, transcendental,
transcendence not ever
happening without absolute
mystical concentration, her
Tchaikovsky, an evocation
rather than a mere description
of a Russian village, her
Rachmaninov, on utter fire

Dmitry Shishkin, before her,
neither was un-brilliant, a
consummate technician,
however, rather than an outright
revelation, his spirited Bach was
a turning point for me, finally
someone who got it, his Mozart,
as frivolous and delightful as
Mozart would’ve wanted it to be,
the rest appropriately everywhere
dazzling, second, therefore, ever
so illustrious, nevertheless,
prize, bravo

neither, incidentally, milked any
of their notes, just played what
was written


psst: compare Fragonard, above, to
Mozart, a synaesthetic match,
where sight and sound are
interwoven, giving you social
intimations of the mid-18th