Thursday, September 24, 2015

Richter and Karajan play Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor


   Romantic era was the period known for industrialization, developing big cities and railway transportation, deep social changes and great technical improvements. In the same 19th century position of arts, literature and music has changed, and artists win privileged position. Musicians were no longer treated as servants, and best virtuosi were worshiped as messengers of the gods. This was the setting for developing the new attitude to a musical form. Among many classical and romantic forms of musical works the one which became most capacious was concerto, especially piano concerto, which finally conquered popularity of violin concerto. 
   Most popular piano concertos of the era became landmarks of the style, after Beethoven’s symphonic concertos, after spectacular brilliant concertos of Hummel, Weber, Field and Chopin, romantic composers have wide perspective of change and various possibilities for constructing new forms. Variety of formal solutions show possibilities of various relations between piano and orchestra and various number of movements – from 1 part in Liszt’s 2nd Concerto (in fact it is in 6 connected parts), 2 parts in big variety of constructions by many composers, 4 parts in Liszt’s 1st Concerto, all four Concertos by Henry Litolff, Brahms’ 2nd Concerto and many more. There were also experiments with different forms, e.g. theme with variations and in effect concerto in 11 parts like 1st Glazunov’s Concerto or 13 parts like in 2nd Concerto by Zygmunt Stojowski. In this wide and differentiated movement Piano Concerto No. 1 B-flat Minor by Peter Tchaikovsky looks as traditional as conservative.

Richter and Karajan in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1963)

   What makes Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto so great and unique is invention of its themes and strong formal construction, natural meanings and powerful expression based on perfect compromise between classical idea of form and romantic spirit. This work is so clear in formal idea and so consequent in its simplicity, it can give listening pleasure even in average performance. But only well balanced renditions can grasp all of its intellectual and emotional subjects. Paradoxically this balance happens to be harder to achieve for artists of best qualifications. And these who were trying to overcome this condition were loosing natural musical sincerity and credibility.
   Among many great performers of this concerto was Svjatoslav Richter, who played it with strong, clear and decided phrases, almost as he was trying to restrain some emotions expressed by accompanying orchestra. But trying to stop Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan always was an impossible task. Great orchestral phrases and vividly alive orchestral sound are about to dominate whole performance, what makes Richter to match. In final effect rendition is full of energy covering structural qualities. Whole work is too much unequivocal. Despite perfect work of pianist this performance’s worth is only four stars.

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