Tchaikowsky piano concerto no 1 in B flat minor, opus 23‏

by richibi

the piano concerto no 3 of Rachmaninoff was written in 1909,
a hundred years after Beethoven’s piano concerto no 5, the
, 1811, to the attentive ear the intervening years
are present in the evolution of the music

the most evident structural alteration, sensed now rather
than consciously heard, though this change would’ve been
glaring during that period, is the often elastic rhythm, the
hesitation, the reserve, the recapitulation of forces before
a surging onslaught, before a turbulent apotheosis, as a
movement returns to its fundamental tempo

the beat ever essentially reigns

this will change

let me point out here that this rallentando wouldn’t’ve been
even conceivable before the invention of the piano, which
happened around the time of Mozart, the harpsichord before
that couldn’t do that, it was confined, you might say, to
only rallentandon’ts, the harpsichord didn’t provide the
possibility of resounding a note, neither of moderating of
course its volume, which the piano, by very definition, did,
“piano” means “soft”, “pianoforte” “soft loud”, the very
foundational elements of the instrument, the elaboration
of beat would thus perforce henceforward play a major role

between Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, these two pillars of
our musical Trinity, there is the mighty, the third supreme
immortal, Tchaikowsky, a Late Romantic, of all composers
perhaps to us the most familiar, his piano concerto no 1 in
B flat minor, opus 23, written in 1875, is the concerto most
associated with my generation, Van Cliburn was a rock star
then, after winning the Tchaikowsky Piano Competition in
Moscow, 1958, an achievement of the very highest order
for an American in that historical context

and his performance of it was spectacular

the most salient aspect of Tchaikowsky‘s music to my mind
is the charged dramatics, which is not surprising when you
consider that he wrote the music for “The Nutcracker”,
“Swan Lake”, musical story-telling, you’ll note he evokes
this dramatic tension by sustaining, withholding, then
unleashing the beat before a storm of prestidigitatori

Tchaikowsky tells grandiose stories, Rachmaninoff opens
an anguished heart, Beethoven speaks with God, they are
our foundational musical poets, our sonic oracles

the formidable Emil Gilels, 1916 – 1985, plays Tchaikowsky,
he is electric, he is epic, he is extraordinary

Alfred Wallenstein conducts