Nápravník & Blumenfeld: Works for piano & orchestra
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Movement 1: Allegro energico
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Allegro vivace
The first movement (Allegro energico) begins with four mighty A minor chords from the full orchestra, a gesture that owes a clear debt to the ‘Dies irae’ from Verdi’s Requiem which Nápravník had conducted in St Petersburg shortly before composing this concerto. The main theme is then introduced by the piano in octaves. There is something reminiscent of Brahms in the scope of this melody, although it has its own distinctive flavour. The woodwind takes over this theme in a more lyrical fashion, although swirling figuration from the soloist maintains the sense of energy and momentum. An expressive linking theme, based on the opening diminished fourth interval of the main motif, is repeated and then fragmented, and leads us to a subordinate melody first stated by the piano in C major (at 2'48''). The short development section begins with this subordinate theme played in E flat major by the strings, accompanied by delicate but virtuosic thirds and sixths from the piano (from 4'18''). This development section emphasizes the tight motivic construction of the movement as well as its driving energy. The recapitulation begins with the return of the main theme in C major (from 6'06''); in the repeat the soloist metamorphoses the main theme, giving it a more lyrical character (meno mosso), later imitated in dialogue with the flute. After a coda that summarizes the melodic ideas comes an exquisite chordal transition from the strings which leads directly into the second movement.
The Larghetto, in B flat major, begins with a nocturne-like theme from the piano, supported by lilting left-hand chords. An episode in G minor (poco più mosso) introduces a secondary theme in the orchestra, and is characterized by the delicate double-note figurations from the soloist which lend the music an almost impressionistic colouring. The music’s tenderness is combined with a latent passion which grows until the second theme resounds from the full orchestra supported by the piano’s figurations which are now in grandiose octaves and chords (energico). The first theme returns, this time from the orchestra, against a backdrop of the piano’s running scales and leggiero decoration.
The finale (Allegro vivace) is built on three themes. The first, in A major, is of a jocular nature, possibly having its origin in Glinka’s Kamarinskaya; the second, in F sharp minor, is a playful Russian dance; the third (meno mosso, con tenerezza) is tender and intimate, and contrasts with the merriment of the first two themes. The confessional mood of this third idea is broken off when the second theme returns, and the element of rustic buffoonery is intensified as the first two themes are heard fortissimo; the lyrical third theme then returns with an even greater sense of contrast. The piano-writing becomes increasingly virtuosic during further interplay between the first two themes which leads to a glorious statement of the third theme, grandioso and forte, played by the orchestra with flamboyant arpeggios and passagework from the soloist. (Such exalted, hymn-like culminations are typical of the finales of Russian piano concertos, as in for example Tchaikovsky’s first and Rachmaninov’s second.) The coda is thrilling and triumphant, the work closing in a whirlwind of arpeggios and octaves.
from notes by Evgeny Soifertis © 2005