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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67711/2
Recording details: May 2009
Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Andrés Villalta
Release date: April 2010
Total duration: 39 minutes 34 seconds

'Hough plays with a brilliance that conveys delicacy of feelign as well as virtuosity and power' (The Mail on Sunday)

'The electrifying pace Hough injects into the codas of No 1 and the Concert Fantasia are suitably exciting, though these are nothing compared to the tumultuous final pages of No 2 (a tremendous performance). The audience whoops in amazement … this is a great recording—no doubt about that—and one which, if there is any justice, will garner any number of awards' (Gramophone)

'Anyone who heard Stephen Hough's barnstorming performances of all the Tchaikovsky piano concertos at last year's Proms will want to own these CDs … Osmo Vänskä's suave direction of the Minnesota players allows Hough's brilliance to shine through' (The Observer)

'[Concerto no 1] is injected with exhilharation, the bravura tempered with limpid lyricism … this set is a worthy tribute to the longevity of Hyperion's series' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Stephen Hough's account of the First Piano Concerto, dazzling as it may be, is only one of the highlights in this exceptional collection of all of Tchaikovsky's works for piano and orchestra … Hough's ability to strip off the layers of varnish from a work so that it recaptures much of its startling freshness is remarkable, and his combination of bravura swagger and the most fastidious care with line and texture is utterly convincing' (The Guardian)

'Stephen Hough, without rival in bringing new life to popular repertoire with a romantic sweep … with Hough at the keys, the First Concerto becomes no warhorse taken for a dutiful trot but a freshly imagined masterpiece bouncing with surprises and invention. Beyond Hough's crystalline clarity, dash and power, Vänskä displays complete mastery of the music's architecture, engineering tension particularly well in the finale's hurly burly … but it's the set's lesser pieces that offer the most revelations … the Second Concerto flourishes as never before' (The Times)

'Brilliantly played but thoughtfully reconsidered interpretations … he achieves the remarkable feat of not making the B flat major concerto sound remotely hackneyed. Sparks fly thanks to his outstanding conductor … he makes the strongest possible case for the restoration of the neglected and often reviled G major concerto (No 2)' (The Sunday Times)

'No mere warhorse anymore, the concerto here rises in integrity while Hough time and time again reminds us that this is his carefully considered take on the score… Vänskä is a fine accompanist. A musician who himself revels in rethinking scores, it is as if Hough has met his dream soul mate… the fire comes from Hough's determination; his conductor sticks with him all the way… the audience's enthusiastic reaction says it all… a fitting 50th volume celebration to a series of major importance' (Fanfare, USA)

'Hough has virtuosity to burn and shows it on his recording of the three concertos and Concert Fantasia. But he is also an artist of uncommon sensitivity and taste. Moreover, his recording has the advantage of offering the uncut Second Concerto plus, on supplemental tracks, the seriously cut version of the second movement by Alexander Siloti and his own uncut, but modified, version of the same movement' (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, USA)

Piano Concerto No 2 in G major, Op 44
begun summer 1879; completed in 1880; written for Nikolai Rubinstein; first performed in 1882 by Sergei Taneyev

Allegro brillante  [19'07]
Andante non troppo  [13'27]

Other recordings available for download
Tatiana Nikolayeva (piano), USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Nikolai Anosov (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Even when there were no deadlines looming, Tchaikovsky forced himself to maintain a constant flow of compositions, and even became anxious and depressed when there was no work in progress. One such moment came in the summer of 1879, and to improve his mood, Tchaikovsky began work on his second piano concerto. While his efforts fell short of the level of inspiration evident in his first concerto, No 2 is undeniably attractive, and elaborate in design. Nikolai Rubinstein was once again the chosen performer for the premiere, and Tchaikovsky was understandably anxious about how the pianist would receive the new work. He sent the draft score to Taneyev, asking if he thought anything needed changing in the piano-writing. Taneyev assured him that all was well, and the score was passed on to Rubinstein. Rubinstein was not hostile this time, but he still had reservations: the piano part was not prominent enough and the tendency towards dialogue with the orchestra made the part too ‘episodic’. In the event, his sudden death in 1881 removed him from the scene, and Taneyev became the soloist for the concerto’s premiere in 1882. The critics found the work overlong, and Tchaikovsky jokingly reprimanded Taneyev for not correcting that in time. Feeling nevertheless that there might be some truth in the judgement, he decided some cuts should be made, first taking on the task himself, then entrusting it to the pianist Alexander Siloti. On the return of the score, Tchaikovsky thought that Siloti’s editing was too damaging to the concerto’s structure, particularly in the second movement. The composer strongly objected: ‘I will definitely not allow the cadenza to be changed; it would have to be composed anew. The cadenza somehow suggested itself just at this point and in order to place it elsewhere I should have to rearrange the whole work completely.’ But the composer died before he was able to oversee the new edition of the concerto to the end, and the publisher, Jurgenson, simply issued Siloti’s version as if it were authorized, calculating, no doubt, that the pianist was the shrewder judge of public taste. The whole affair was quite typical of nineteenth-century performers’ attitudes to the concertos they played; the score was merely considered to be the composer’s version, and not holy writ, not least because many pianists composed and improvised, unlike most of their present-day counterparts.

The first movement is substantial and elaborately wrought, although its content is sometimes criticized for being derivative. We can indeed hear Schumann through the themes and their development, Liszt in the passagework, and even Weber in the auspicious beginning of the coda (which seems to be modelled on the equivalent moment in the Freischütz overture). The imposing theme at the opening is a Schumannesque march for a few bars, but it quickly takes on a more Russian character through touches of modal harmony. The foil to this theme is more soloistic, but lyrical and anxious, and this in turn leads to the first brief cadenza for the piano—the several cadenzas in this concerto come and go quite spontaneously. This cadenza ends on an insistent repetition of a dominant-seventh chord, as if demanding a reprise of the main theme, but the expected cadence is ‘interrupted’, and instead we arrive at the second theme, in the colourful key of E flat major. This melody, and its setting for clarinet, may be reminiscent of Agatha’s theme in Freischütz, but it also belongs to a species of Tchaikovsky theme: based on a simple descending scale, these themes begin on the third degree as if written for an operatic soprano or a tenor (such themes proliferate in Eugene Onegin). This theme is emotionally charged and tends to veer towards the minor, undermining the otherwise bright mood. Escaping from these shadows, the theme reaches its apotheosis in the key of C major (an unexpected move within the framework of a sonata exposition). Descending slowly from this climactic passage, Tchaikovsky begins the development section, which is framed by two cadenzas (the second is the largest cadenza of the movement and highly virtuosic). The ensuing recapitulation serves to restore tonal balance after the colourful key shifts of the exposition, and the movement ends on a note of brilliance.

In the second movement, Tchaikovsky moves towards the triple-concerto genre, offering us a luxuriant solo-violin ‘aria’; a little later, a solo cello joins in to create a duet. The piano finally enters with the same theme recast in the manner of a Chopin nocturne. The music becomes progressively more nervous, leading up to a precarious climax whose energy is dissipated in a double cadenza for the string soloists. In the reprise, the three soloists now join forces to play the theme together, as a chamber-music piano trio, with the pianist providing accompaniment figures. Although the piano part contains a few more flourishes before and during the mysterious coda, piano soloists may feel a degree of consternation at the limited role they play in this movement, the most lyrically attractive of the concerto.

In the finale, by way of compensation, the pianist is granted a great display of virtuosity in torrents of octaves and other passagework figures. The movement bounces along on Schumannesque rhythms, albeit in a lighter style than Schumann would have allowed himself, with sunny hints of Mediterranean popular song shining through. This is unashamed and unpretentious entertainment music, and highly enjoyable.

from notes by Marina Frolova-Walker © 2010

Other albums featuring this work
'Tatiana Nikolayeva – Tchaikovsky' (APR5666)
Tatiana Nikolayeva – Tchaikovsky
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5666  Download only  

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