Accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, the Russian classical pianist Denis Matsuev performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Recorded in May 2015 in Moscow.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2
The work was written in 1879–1880. It was dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, the Russian pianist, conductor, and composer; who considered Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto unplayable. Rubinstein had insisted he is allowed to perform it at the premiere as a way of making up for his harsh criticism of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Rubinstein was never destined to play it, however, as he died in March 1881.
The premiere performance took place in New York, on 12 November 1881. The soloist was the English-born pianist Madeline Schiller, and the German-born American violinist and conductor Theodore Thomas conducted the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
The concerto is scored for solo piano and an orchestra comprising 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat, A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D) + timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.
Following the first performances, Tchaikovsky was not happy with the concerto’s relative lack of popularity, as he considered it to be among his best works, and one with which he had worked with pleasure. In the late 1880s, he made some alterations and cuts, as many pianists considered the concerto to be too long.
The concerto consists of three movements:
- Allegro brillante e molto vivace
- Andante non troppo (in D major)
- Allegro con fuoco
1. Allegro brillante e molto vivace
The first movement of Thchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2, marked “Allegro brillante e molto vivace,” is a lively and virtuosic piece that showcases the technical and expressive capabilities of both the soloist and the orchestra.
The movement begins with a grandiose and majestic orchestral introduction that sets the stage for the entrance of the solo piano. The piano enters with a series of powerful and energetic chords that establish the work’s main theme. This theme is characterized by its heroic and triumphant character, with sweeping melodies and bold rhythms that evoke a sense of grandeur and majesty.
As the movement progresses, Tchaikovsky weaves in a number of other themes and motifs, often in contrast to the opening theme. The second theme is a beautiful and lyrical melody played by the strings, while the third theme is a fast and playful passage played by the piano.
Throughout the movement, the piano engages in a virtuosic dialogue with the orchestra, with rapid-fire exchanges of melodies and harmonies. The music is characterized by its technical demands, with the soloist required to execute intricate runs, arpeggios, and trills with precision and clarity.
The middle section of the movement features a lyrical and introspective melody played by the piano, accompanied by a delicate and haunting orchestral backdrop. This section showcases Tchaikovsky’s gift for creating beautiful and expressive melodies that tug at the heartstrings.
The movement concludes with a thrilling and virtuosic coda that brings the concerto to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Overall, the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is a dazzling and energetic piece of music that highlights the composer’s gift for creating bold and expressive themes, as well as the technical skill and artistry of the performer.
2. Andante non troppo (in D major)
The second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is a lyrical and delicate piece that provides a contrast to the bravura and power of the first movement.
The movement begins with a gentle and flowing melody played by the piano, accompanied by soft, shimmering strings. The melody is simple and elegant, with a wistful quality that evokes a sense of nostalgia or longing. The orchestra soon picks up the theme, and the movement unfolds as a dialogue between the soloist and the ensemble.
The second theme of the movement is introduced by the piano and is more playful and cheerful than the opening theme. It is characterized by lively rhythms and sparkling runs that dance around the orchestra. The theme is passed back and forth between the soloist and the ensemble, with each iteration adding new flourishes and embellishments.
The middle section of the movement is a slower and more introspective passage, featuring a new melody played by the piano. This melody is gentle and understated, with a delicate quality that is accentuated by the soft accompaniment of the orchestra. As the melody unfolds, the piano adds decorative flourishes and trills that heighten the emotional impact of the music.
The movement concludes with a return to the opening theme, played first by the orchestra and then by the piano. The melody is given new life through new variations and embellishments, building to a climax before settling into a final, serene chord.
3. Allegro con fuoco
The finale of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is a lively and energetic piece marked “Allegro con fuoco,” which means “fast and with fire.”
The movement opens with a brief orchestral introduction, which leads into a fast and rhythmic main theme played by the piano. This theme is characterized by its driving energy, with the soloist racing up and down the keyboard in a series of dazzling runs and arpeggios. The orchestra provides a lively accompaniment, with brass and percussion adding to the excitement and drama of the music.
The second theme of the movement is introduced by the orchestra and is more lyrical and expressive than the opening theme. This theme provides a moment of respite from the frenetic energy of the first theme, allowing the soloist to showcase their sensitivity and musicality. The piano and orchestra engage in a lively call-and-response, building the tension and excitement of the music.
The middle section of the movement features a slower and more introspective passage, characterized by a hauntingly beautiful melody played by the piano. The orchestra provides a lush and emotive accompaniment, with strings and woodwinds adding depth and richness to the music. As the melody builds in intensity, the music grows more and more passionate, with the piano and orchestra engaging in a fiery exchange of virtuosity.
The movement concludes with a return to the opening theme, played with even greater energy and power than before. The piano and orchestra engage in a thrilling race to the finish, with the music building to a triumphant and explosive climax.
- Piano Concerto No. 2 (Tchaikovsky) on Wikipedia