Saint Petersburg based Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra plays Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Salle Pleyel, Paris, January 2010.
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The symphony is written between 1877 and 1878. The first performance was at a Russian Musical Society concert in Moscow on February 22 (or the 10th using the calendar of the time) 1878, with Nikolai Rubinstein as conductor.
- Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima — Moderato assai, quasi Andante — Allegro vivo (F minor) The symphony opens with horns and bassoons sounding a loud A-flat in unison. After a descending line by the bassoon and low brass, the woodwinds and trumpets join with a higher A-flat. As the music solidifies into large, slow syncopated chords, Tchaikovsky unleashes the musical equivalent of lightning bolts: two short fortissimo chords, each followed by a long measure of silence. As the music ebbs away, the woodwinds hint at the main melody, which is properly introduced by the strings at the Moderato con anima. (The score at this point is marked “In movimento di Valse”, as it is written in 9/8.) The melody develops quite rapidly. Much later in the movement, the same A-flat is played by the trumpets. This movement is marked by continual introductions of the fate motif, the A-flat phrase. The motive serves as a separation between each section of the sonata—allegro form. At around twenty minutes in length in some performances, this is one of the longest symphonic movements by Tchaikovsky. It is also just short of the length of the remaining movements combined.
- Andantino in modo di canzona (B flat minor) This movement is introduced by the melancholy melody of the oboe. The music’s impassioned climax is a reminder of the grieving phrases that dominated the opening movement.
- Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato — Allegro (F major) Strings play pizzicato throughout this movement. They are joined by the woodwinds later when an oboe’s long, high A signals the start of the A-major Trio section. Later, the brass instruments come in, playing very quietly and staccato. The three groups (strings, woodwinds, and brass) are the only groups that play; there is no percussion in this movement except for the timpani, as in the previous movement. It ends quietly with pizzicato strings.
- Finale: Allegro con fuoco (F major) Here Tchaikovsky incorporates a famous Russian folk song, “In the Field Stood a Birch Tree”, as one of its themes. In this movement, a hint of the A-flat of the first movement is present about halfway through, with the ‘lightning bolts’, with cymbals added, being much louder.
The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra or the Kirov Orchestra is located in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The orchestra was founded in 1783 during the reign of Catherine the Great, it was known before the revolution as the Russian Imperial Opera Orchestra. The orchestra is one of the oldest musical institutions in Russia.
In 1935 Joseph Stalin changed its name (and that of the Ballet) to the Kirov, after Sergei Kirov, the first secretary of the Communist Party in Leningrad, whose 1934 murder by his regime Stalin was attempting to whitewash. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the name was changed back to the Mariinsky in 1992.
The current artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre is the conductor Valery Gergiev and the principal guest conductor is Nikolaj Znaider. Under Gergiev, the Mariinsky Orchestra has become one of the leading symphony orchestras in Russia.
Gergiev (b. 1953) is also the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg.