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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67711/2
Recording details: June 2009
Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Andrés Villalta
Release date: April 2010
Total duration: 14 minutes 42 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 3 in E flat major, Op 75
1893; Allegro brillante; first performed by Sergei Taneyev in 1895; re-working of the discarded first movement from what became Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony; unfinished 2nd and 3rd movements edited by Taneyev published posthumously as Op 79

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Tchaikovsky’s final concerto arose from a symphonic draft, in this case, the rejected first movement, dating back to 1889, for what was to become his famous ‘Pathétique’ Symphony. He wanted to write a symphony that would cover human life and death, and the planned work began with a heroic Allegro which, in his own words, represented ‘impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity’. The symphony was to end with a slow and quiet portrayal of death. If we imagine, for a moment, a symphony beginning with the heroic movement that became the third piano concerto and ending with the finale of the ‘Pathétique’, Tchaikovsky’s problem becomes apparent—the emotional distance seems too great for the confines of even a large symphonic work. It was therefore rejected, not because of any intrinsic demerits, but because it failed to fit the desired symphonic scheme. Still, the entire first movement had been completed through to the scoring, and Tchaikovsky was reluctant to waste it, so he converted it into a piano concerto with minimal disturbance to the original version. The work’s odd genesis can be seen as positive or negative depending on what is expected of a piano concerto: on the one hand, it is a serious piece on a symphonic scale, with thematic material that is of much more noble lineage than anything in the second piano concerto or the Fantasia; on the other hand, pianists have considered the work less attractive because it lacks a virtuosic piano part. The piano part, indeed, is integrated into the symphonic texture much more than in most other concertos (although Rachmaninov’s second comes close to it), but Tchaikovsky attempts to compensate for this with a lengthy cadenza. The concerto begins with an unusual theme given to the bassoons (the other woodwind joining in later)—clearly intended to be heroic and imposing, but still subdued in its first airing. Unusually for Tchaikovsky, this beautiful theme lacks harmonic movement and sits on a tonic pedal, bringing it closer to the opening themes we often find in Glazunov’s symphonies. A contrasting middle section introduces images that are more disturbing— fantastic in the manner of The Nutcracker—but these are dismissed upon the return of the opening theme, now fully triumphant. The second, lyrical theme in the distant key of G major lifts us onto a plateau of stillness and calm, but a third theme is still to come, a lively dance à la russe, set out in a toccata-like texture, with some surprising harmonic changes and more idiomatic piano-writing. Tchaikovsky brews up some storms in the development section, but instead of leading to triumph or tragedy, they simply fade away into strains of the second, calm theme on each occasion. The task of converting the development into concerto format was made easier by splitting it into a purely orchestral section and a large piano solo section (the main cadenza). The recapitulation is given extra dynamism thanks to a new harmonization of the first theme that pulls it away from its static origins, while a brilliant coda draws the concerto to a life-affirming close.

Tchaikovsky once again sought Taneyev’s advice, and received confirmation that the main problem was the lack of virtuosity in the piano-writing. Tchaikovsky was now undecided whether to leave the concerto as it stood (he had already promised it in this form to the pianist Louis Diémer), or to expand it into a full-length concerto with the addition of two more movements (which would provide opportunities for greater pianistic display). In the end, he died without completing the sketched outlines of a planned Andante and Finale, and Taneyev edited these afterwards, publishing them under a separate opus number (Op 79). Taneyev, once again, premiered both the single-movement version, in 1895, and the three-movement version the following year.

from notes by Marina Frolova-Walker © 2010

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