Tchaikovsky – Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (Richter, Kagan, Gutman)

Natalia Gutman (Cello), Sviatoslav Richter (Piano) and Oleg Kagan (Violin) perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. Recorded live in December 1986 at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, USSR.

The piece was written by the Russian composer in Rome between December 1881 and late January 1882 and subtitled “In memory of a great artist“, in reference to the Russian pianist, conductor and composer Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s close friend and mentor, who had died on 23 March 1881.

There are two movements:

  1. Pezzo elegiaco (Moderato assai – Allegro giusto) (in A minor)
  2. (A) Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto (in E major) – (B) Variazione Finale e coda (in A major – A minor)

The work is scored for the usual combination of piano, violin, and cello; in fact it was the only work Tchaikovsky ever wrote for these three instruments. When his patron Nadezhda von Meck wanted him to write a piece for these instruments, the composer replied:

“You ask why I have never written a trio. Forgive me, dear friend; I would do anything to give you pleasure, but this is beyond me … I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or cello. To my mind the timbre of these instruments will not blend … it is torture for me to have to listen to a string trio or a sonata of any kind for piano and strings. To my mind, the piano can be effective in only three situations: alone, in context with the orchestra, or as accompaniment, i.e., the background of a picture.”

But, despite the initial refusal, a year later, he composed the piano trio without being asked to do so. He wrote: “… in spite of this antipathy, I am thinking of experimenting with this sort of music, which so far I have not touched. I have already written the start of a trio. Whether I shall finish it and whether it will come out successfully I do not know, but I would like very much to bring what I have begun to a successful conclusion … I won’t hide from you the great effort of will required to set down my musical ideas in this new and unusual form. But I should like to overcome all these difficulties…”

He completed his rough sketches on 20 January 1882, and completed the scoring by 25 January. On that day he wrote to von Meck again: “The Trio is finished … now I can say with some conviction that my work is not all bad. But I am afraid, having written all my life for orchestra, and only taken late in life to chamber music, I may have failed to adapt the instrumental combinations to my musical thoughts. In short, I fear I may have arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for the instruments. I have tried to avoid this, but I am not sure whether I have been successful.”

He put the finishing touches to the Trio by 9 February (the score is annotated “Rome 28 January-9 February 1882”), and sent it to his publishers on 11 February, asking that Sergei Taneyev appear as piano soloist at the first performance. Taneyev, the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen and the violinist Jan Hřímalý were given access to the score, and they made a number of suggestions for improvement, which Tchaikovsky accepted.

A private performance with the above-named soloists was held at the Moscow Conservatory on 23 March, the first anniversary of Nikolai Rubinstein’s death, while Tchaikovsky was in Italy. He returned to Russia in April and heard the Trio for the first time, at another private performance, after which he made revisions. These included inserting a break before the Andante coda and rewriting the piano part in the Finale. Taneyev also rewrote Variation VIII, a change Tchaikovsky approved.

Natalia Gutman

Natalia Gutman

Natalia Grigoryevna Gutman (born 14 November 1942 in Kazan). Photo: MilanoCultura.com

Natalia Grigoryevna Gutman (born 14 November 1942 in Kazan) is a Russian cellist. She began to study cello at the Moscow Music School with R. Sapozhnikov. She was later admitted to the Moscow Conservatory, where she was taught by Mstislav Rostropovich, amongst others.

Distinguished at important international competitions, she has carried out tours around Europe, America and Japan, being invited as a soloist by great conductors and orchestras. At one notable recital, she was accompanied by Sviatoslav Richter in the Chopin Cello Sonata. Always attentive to music from the 20th century, she regularly performs works by contemporary composers. She has recorded Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto for RCA records and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra for EMI records.

A great supporter of chamber music and contemporary music, she founded the Musikfest Kreuth with her husband, Oleg Kagan, in 1990.

Oleg Kagan

Oleg Kagan
Oleg Kagan

Oleg Moiseyevich Kagan (22 November 1946 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russian SFSR – 15 July 1990, Munich, West Germany) was a Soviet violinist, known for his chamber collaborations with such musicians as pianist Sviatoslav Richter and cellist Natalia Gutman, his wife. He was also a significant proponent of modern music, in particular Berg’s Violin Concerto. Several recently released concert recordings have added to his posthumous reputation.

Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter
Sviatoslav Richter. Photo: wqxr.org

Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (March 20 [O.S. March 7] 1915 – August 1, 1997) was a Ukraine born Soviet pianist known for the depth of his interpretations, virtuoso technique, and vast repertoire. He is considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.

Richter was born near Zhytomyr (Ukraine), in the Russian Empire. His father, Teofil Danilovich Richter (1872–1941), was a German expatriate pianist, organist, and composer who had studied in Vienna. His mother, Anna Pavlovna (née Moskaleva; 1893–1963), was from a landowning family, and at one point had been a pupil of her future husband.

On March 19, 1934, Richter gave his first recital, at the Engineers’ Club of Odessa; but he did not formally start studying piano until three years later, when he decided to seek out Heinrich Neuhaus, a famous pianist and piano teacher, at the Moscow Conservatory.

In 1949 Richter won the Stalin Prize, which led to extensive concert tours in Russia, Eastern Europe and China. He gave his first concerts outside the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia in 1950.

The West first became aware of Richter through recordings made in the 1950s. One of Richter’s first advocates in the West was Emil Gilels, who stated during his first tour of the United States that the critics (who were giving Gilels rave reviews) should “wait until you hear Richter.” Richter’s first concerts in the West took place in May 1960, when he was allowed to play in Finland, and on October 15, 1960, in Chicago, where he played Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Erich Leinsdorf, creating a sensation.

In 1961, Richter played for the first time in London. His first recital, pairing works of Haydn and Prokofiev, was received with hostility by British critics. Notably, Neville Cardus concluded that Richter’s playing was “provincial”, and wondered why Richter had been invited to play in London, given that London had plenty of “second class” pianists of its own. Following a July 18, 1961, concert, where Richter performed both of Liszt’s piano concertos, the critics reversed course.

In 1963, after searching in the Loire Valley, France, for a venue suitable for a music festival, Richter discovered La Grange de Meslay several kilometres north of Tours. The festival was established by Richter and became an annual event.

In 1970, Richter visited Japan for the first time, traveling across Siberia by railway and boat as he disliked flying. He played Beethoven, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Bartók and Rachmaninoff, as well as works by Mozart and Beethoven with Japanese orchestras. He visited Japan eight times.

Sources

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