Movement 1: Allegro maestoso
Movement 2: Andante con moto
Movement 3: Scherzo-Finale: Allegro molto
It’s a cosy piece, full of hummable tunes. As one would expect of a composition pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, it is expertly crafted and the piano part is distinctive and beautifully laid out. The most daring departure from convention is in the use of a 5/4 time signature in the Finale. It was a quirk of Arensky’s that he enjoyed unusual metres. (Tchaikovsky even reproached him for doing so.)
The Concerto captured the imagination of many pianists of the day—it was a favourite of the youthful Vladimir Horowitz—and it provided an effective and stylish vehicle for many a barn-stormer before its salon prettiness came to be seen as superficial and second-rate. Arensky dedicated the work to the great cellist ‘Herrn Professor Carl Davidoff’ [sic], head of the St Petersburg Conservatory during the time the composer studied there. It was a dedication repeated when he composed his celebrated Trio in Davidov’s memory.
The Concerto was published in 1883 and was an immediate success in both St Petersburg and Moscow. The composer, having won the Gold Medal for composition with his Symphony No 1 in B minor, was appointed Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory. A successful if not adventurous career would seem to have been presaged by these youthful triumphs. Not only this, but he was befriended and championed by Tchaikovsky. A product of the Nationalist school of St Petersburg and now a star on the staff of the more international Moscow establishment, Arensky continued to compose prolifically as well as teach (Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Gretchaninov were among his pupils) until 1894. He resigned his post on being offered the directorship of the Imperial Court Chapel in succession to Balakirev himself, no less, who recommended Arensky for the position. This involved a move back to St Petersburg and it is significant that the other composition of Arensky’s presented here dates from 1899 and is, again, a product of his life in the city headquarters of the Russian nationalist school: Russian themes in a cosmopolitan wrapping.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1992