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Piano Concertos

The piano concerto is one of the most beloved genres of the concert hall. After all, it was the thundering virtuosity of some of the great composer/pianists that gave rise to music's first superstars! This week, we'll explore their world and the great music they produced.

 
Program 1

In the first part of the piano concerto series Bill goes back to the very roots of the concerto form and genre and  its evolution from Vivaldi’s  concerti grossi. Concerto grosso is the father of the concerto genre in which one or multiple soloists (concertino) are set up against the body of the orchestra (repieno). Bill walks the listener through the first few steps of the evolution of the concerto demonstrating with Vivaldi’s concerto grosso, Bach`s 5th Brandenburg concerto, Bach`s  d minor piano concerto, and Mozart`s concerto in Bb major K456. We can hear two versions of the 5th Brandenburg concerto : one on harpsichord and one on piano. Bill explains the different ways these two instruments express themselves in baroque music.

Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2, I (excerpt)
Concertgebouw/Haitink; Ashkenazy, p.
Lon 414475
:15, :41

Vivaldi: Concerto No. 1 fr. L’Estro Armonico, R. 549, III (excerpt)
I Musici
Phil 412128
1:02

Vivaldi: Concerto No. 11 fr. L’Estro Armonico, R. 565, I (excerpt)
I Musici
Phil 412128
:59

J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050, I
English Concert/Pinnock
Archiv 413629
9:44

J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, I (excerpt)
Elysium String Quartet; Mann, fl.; Feeney, db.; Foss, p.
Elysium 717
5:11

J.S. Concerto for Harpsichord in d minor, BWV 1052
Bach: Foss, p.
Elysium 717
22:40

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 18, K. 456, III
Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood; Levin, fp.
Oiseau 452051-2
7:58

J.S. Bach: Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano in f minor, BWV 1056, II
Elysium String Quartet; Foss, p.
Elysium 717
3:15

 

Program 2
In this broadcast Bill continues exploring piano concertos, placing emphasis on innovations in concerto expositions. Beethoven`s innovations in piano concertos are remarkable. His first concerto starts with a few minutes long orchestral exposition which was unheard of before. The exposition introduces all the musical material used throughout the first movement. Beethoven`s 4th piano concerto on the other hand starts with a very intimate, poetic piano solo, breaking away from conventional concertos. Concertos were supposed to be music for the public and the concert hall, and here is a concerto starting with the most intimate solo, as if the pianist was playing to himself.
 
In the 18th century, painters started using bigger canvases, writers wrote ten volume books. Artists needed more space to express themselves. Music expanded together with other arts. Movements got much longer and larger.
 
The next concerto Bill talks about is Mendelssohn`s first concerto in g minor, which is innovative in its way of blending movements together, and in its ecstatic, melodramatic introduction.
Today`s last concerto is Liszt`s very romantic E flat major concerto, which has an extremely unusual opening motive and a series of diminished chords in the introduction to create unbearable tension.
 

 

Beethoven: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1, I (excerpt)
Cleveland Orch/Szell; Fleisher, p.
CBS 42445
1:53

Beethoven: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 4 in G Major, Op. 73, I
Cleveland Orch/Szell; Fleisher, p.
CBS 42445
17:58

Mendelssohn: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1 in g minor, I
Academy of St. Martinin-theFields/Marriner; Perahia, p.
CBS 42401
7:06, :43

Liszt: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1 in E flat Major, I
New York Phil/Bernstein; Watts, p.
Phil 456985
5:24

Chopin: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 2 in f minor, I & II
RCA Symphony of the Air/Wallenstein; Rubinstein
Phil 456958
16:39

 

Program 3

Yesterday`s broadcast introduced us to piano concertos written by composers who were also great pianists. The early 19th century marked the birth of the concept of the "touring virtuoso", which Paganini and Liszt are great examples for. There became more focus on virtuosity and technique at that time.

Today Bill talks about only two composers: Schumann and Brahms.  Their goal was not to impress the listener with technical difficulty, but to express themselves as deeply as possible and touch the listener on the deepest level.

Schumann`s piano concerto in A minor was premiered by his wife and love, Clara, who was his inspiration for this concerto and many of his other compositions as well. Bill explains the secret code of the piece; Clara’s name is hidden in the music. This concerto is a love letter to her.

The first piece we hear from Brahms is the 2nd movement from his first piano concerto. He wrote this after Schumann’s suicide attempt, as a requiem. Brahms,  in his attempt to write symphonies ended up with a lot of large, colorful orchestral music. These ”attempts”  ended up in his large symphonic works. In today’s broadcast we can hear an anecdote about Glenn Gould playing Brahms’ first concerto, and experts from Brahms’ 1. and 2. concertos.

Schumann: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 54, I
Philadelphia Orch/Ormandy; Serkin, p.
CBS 37256
:56, :33, 14:51

Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1, Op. 15, II
CSO/Reiner; Rubinstein, p.
RCA 63034
13:14

Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1, I (excerpt)
Berlin Phil/ Rattle; Zimerman, p
DG 620302
1:23

Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1, I (excerpt)
New York Phil/ Bernstein; Gould, p.
Sony 60675
1:05

Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in Bb Major, Op. 83, I
New York Phil/Bernstein; Watts, p.
Sony 47539
18:04

 

Program 4

The legacy of classical music comes from Germany and Austria. (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, etc.) Today Bill introduces 3 non-German nationalist composers: Dvorák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. All three had some kind of relationship with Germany.

First we will hear a movement from a piano concerto by Dvorák, a Bohemian composer supported and helped by Brahms. The recording of Dvorák’s very Czech sounding G minor concerto also features a Czech pianist: Firkusny. Bill tells his story.

Grieg, a great Norwegian pianist and composer wrote his concerto in 1868, a few years before Dvorák wrote his. The recording is played by the also Norwegian Andsnes and Grieg’s hometown orchestra: the Bergen Philharmonic.

Tschaikovsky was never really accepted in Russia by all his contemporary nationalistic composers: Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimskij-Korsakov, etc. They claimed he was too ”European”, meaning he paid too much attention to the Austrian tradition, writing symphonies and concertos, while they were writing tone poems on Russian themes.

Tchaikovsky asked Nyikolaj Rubinstein to revise the concerto from a technical pianistic perspective, since Tchaikovsky himself was not a pianist. Rubinstein told him it was unplayable and asked him to revise and change the whole concerto, which offended Tchaikovsky. He refused to change anything and intended on publishing the concerto the way it was.  Bill reads the story from Tchaikovsky’s letter.

 

Dvorák: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in g minor, Op. 33, I
Czech Phil/ Neumann; Firkusny, p.
RCA 67481
17:47

Grieg: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 16, finale
Bergen Phil/ Kitayenko; Andsnes, p.
Virgin 91198
10:04

Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in b-flat minor, Op. 23, I
RCA Symphony Orchestra/Kondrashin; Cliburn, p.
Phi 456748
20:39

 

Program 5

The last broadcast of this week will focus mainly on Rachmaninov (1873-1943), a Russian composer and excellent pianist. His music did not change very much  after 1900 and was undervalued in his time, not taken seriously as classical music. He was 18 when he wrote his first piano concerto in 1891. We will hear Rachmaninov’s first concerto in his own performance, recorded many years later.

In 1897 his first symphony was performed and got terrible reviews. He fell into depression and didn’t write a note for years. He only found relief through hypnosys. Ten years later Rachmaninov wrote his beautiful second piano concerto in c minor.

Being a great and successfull conductor and pianist as well, Rachmaninov struggled finding time for composing after his second concerto, but he managed to write his second symphony.

In 1908 he got his first invitation to North-America to play and conduct. First he did not accept but after thinking it through he agreed and made his American debut at Smith College, then moved on to Philadelphia to conduct the first American perf of his second symphony.  In  1909 Rachmaninov went to New York to conduct the New York Symphony , and he wrote a new piece (his third piano concerto) for the occasion.

The next concerto Bill talks about was written by the Italian Ferruccio Busoni. His piano concerto consists of 5 movements, and is written for piano, orchestra and male chorus, reminding the listener of Beethoven 9th symphony.

The last piano concerto of this week is Ravel’s concerto for piano and orchestra in G major.


 

Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in f# minor, II
Philadelphia Orch/Ormandy; Rachmaninov, p.
RCA 61658
5:19

Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in c minor, I
Concertgebouw/Haitink; Ashkenazy, p.
Lon 414475
11:27

Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in d minor, III
St. Petersburg Phil/Temirkanov; Lang, p.
Telarc 80582
14:35

Busoni: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 39, IV
Cleveland Orch/Dohnányi; Ohlsson, p.
Telarc 80207
12:53

Ravel: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G Major (excerpt)
Montreal Symphony Orch/Dutoit; Thibaudet, p.
Lon 452448
5:26

 

 

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