Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Allegro risoluto
The first subject occurs at the beginning of a short orchestral tutti and is clearly destined for a heroic role. It has a certain affinity with the opening of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony (in E flat) and also with Schumann’s E flat Symphony (No 3, ‘The Rhenish’), of which Balakirev was very fond. The principal second subject is introduced by the piano in the far-flung key of G flat major—and is recapitulated not, as one would expect, in E flat but in D major. This type of semitonal relationship was an important facet of Balakirev’s style, and the key scheme demonstrates his refusal to allow himself to be moulded in a conventional fashion. This is also shown in the remote key of the strikingly beautiful slow movement, B minor. The main theme is the Russian Orthodox Requiem chant ‘So sviatymi upokoi’, played at first by the orchestra after six bars of modulatory introduction, and impeccably treated throughout. The second subject, in D major, sheds a ray of hope in distinguished opposition to, or rather co-existence with, its neighbour. After considerable development of the Requiem theme, it is recapitulated on the full orchestra, with sonorous brass and brilliant piano chords; a low E on the bass tuba is particularly magnificent. Gradually, in a coda, the Requiem theme dies and the first theme of the first movement is used to act as a bridge to the finale, Allegro risoluto. The principal key of this ebullient finale is again unorthodox: G flat major. The first subject is full of rhythic vigour; the second consists of alternating chords of the type used by Mussorgsky at the opening of the coronation scene in Boris Godunov—but here in the Concerto the effect is effervescent rather then severe, a perfect antidote to the gravity of the slow movement. Towards the end, the opening subject of the Concerto reappears, and it finishes as it had begun, in E flat major.
Balakirev’s Concerto does not deserve the neglect into which it has fallen. In spite of the half century or so it took to compose, it holds together well. And the heroic nature of the first movement, the solemn and intense beauty of the second and the scintillation of the third, ensure that the listener is treated to a wide variety of aural experience which adds up, in the end, to a satisfactory whole.
from notes by Edward Garden © 1993