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Fantaisie russe in B minor, Op 39
Nápravník’s Fantaisie russe in B minor Op 39 was composed in 1881 and published in 1886. It was dedicated to one of Liszt’s favourite pupils, the Russian pianist Vera Timanova, who first performed it on February 1881 with great success, and subsequently played it often. Taneyev and Siloti also performed the work, and Tchaikovsky conducted it and held it in high esteem.

The Fantaisie is written in a free form, based on three Russian folk tunes. It begins with ‘The Volga Boatmen’, traditionally sung as the barges were hauled along the towpath—intensely physical labour. This theme is played forte by the full orchestra, accompanied by powerful chords in the lower register of the piano, the heavy texture keeping the music moving forwards at a steady pace. A modulation to the dominant, F sharp major, leads to the second theme (at 2'25''), a Russian dance, lighter in colour and more sprightly in nature (although the tempo remains the same). It is stated first by the soloist (piano, scherzando), before soaring octaves lead to a forte repetition by the orchestra combined with grandiose references to the first theme from the piano. The theme develops against the background of the piano’s continuing ostinato rhythm, before chordal exclamations announce a solo cadenza (at 3'59''), built on a development of the first theme and surrounded by extended trills which give it a more lyrical character. After further development of the second theme, the third tune—an impetuous dance full of unrestrained merriment—is introduced (at 7'52'') in D sharp major. The coda repeats this third theme, which then gives way to an expressive rendition of the second theme (andante) over a repeated pedal B from the piano; the music fades away before the work concludes with a presto flourish.

from notes by Evgeny Soifertis © 2005

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