Movement 1: Allegro brillante
Movement 2: Andante non troppo
Movement 3: Allegro con fuoco
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