Boris Bloch - piano
Duisburger Philharmoniker (Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra)
Recording producer, recording engineer: Roland Kistner / Ralf Koschnicke
Mixing engineer, editor: Ralf Koschnicke
Recording facilities: ACOUSENCE recording mobile / ACOUSENCE recordings
Recording location: Mercatorhalle Duisburg, 27./28.08.2008
c & p 2008 ACOUSENCE records
Antonín Dvorák Concerto for Piano and Orchestra G minor, Frédéric Chopin / Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowsky Soloworks for Piano
The search for "the" solo instrument of the 19th century leads inevitably to the piano. It has its place in the public concert hall as well as in the private salon, and not a few composers have emerged as successful pianists. Among the composers in this program, though, only Frédéric Chopin belongs to this group, but he soon changed his field of activity from the anonymous concert hall to the more intimate salon circle. Antonìn Dvorák, on the other hand, passed the organists' examination and was at first employed as violist in an orchestra, while Tchaikovsky was much too reclusive to interpret his own works in front of an audience. Among the selected works by Dvorák, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, only the Dvorák piano concerto requires a large concert hall, while the solo pieces by Chopin and Tchaikovsky were originally at home in the salon.
Antonín Dvorák composed concertos for various solo instruments with orchestra, though an early cello concerto (1865) is considered of no importance in the repertoire. Best known is the B minor cello concerto op. 104, composed during the composer's stay in America in 1894/95. At the time of its composition, Dvorák was considered one of the most distinguished composers of his time. More than 15 years earlier, in the summer of 1879, when he wrote his violin concerto in A minor op. 53, he was already a European celebrity, while the piano concerto in G minor op. 33 was written before his international breakthrough.
It is characteristic of these compositions that Dvorák never advocates the brilliant virtuoso concerto, but each time integrates the solo instrument into the symphonically conceived orchestral parts in a new way. In addition it is significant that all the solo concertos were written for specific soloists: the cello concerto for the Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan, the violin concerto for the German violinist Joseph Joachim and the piano concerto for Karl von Slavkovský. The latter had settled in Prague as a piano teacher in the 1870s and was a strong supporter of the works of young Czech composers. In 1872 the pianist included the works of Dvorák, then practically an unknown musician, in his own concerts. A little later, Dvorák gained the support of Johannes Brahms, and was counting on further support when writing his only piano concerto in 1876. Slavkovsky´ indeed was at the keyboard at the world premiere of the work, conducted by Anton Cech, on March 24, 1878, and he was also the soloist at the second Prague performance in April 1880. Although other pianists began to take an interest in the work and the composer, as conductor, tried to further it, Dvorák's piano concerto has never really attained popularity. This composition, for which initially no publisher could be found, has always remained more or less a work for connoisseurs.
Like the other concertos for solo instrument and orchestra by Antonín Dvorák, the piano concerto is in a minor key and has three movements with the typical sequence fastslow-fast. The first movement is broad in its dimensions. In the lengthy orchestral introduction the main theme, characterized by the Dvorák expert Otakar Šourek as one of "heroic dignity", is at first presented alone. The actual exposition does not begin until the solo piano alone finally takes up this theme. Thereafter a gentle, Bohemian-coloured side theme and the concluding theme that begins in a hymnlike fashion are introduced. The development section is one of the very longest Dvorák ever wrote. The composer had, after all, already written five symphonies and was now profiting from the experience he had gained from them.
Incidentally, only the piano concerto has a cadenza for the soloist at the end of the first movement. After the lively and energetic first movement, the slow middle movement is like an oasis of peace. It is one of Dvorák's loveliest lyrical inspirations. The peaceful, song-like theme is introduced by the horn, then is taken up the piano and is kept quiet and gentle. The few energetic contrasts, for example in the middle section, remain episodic and do not offer any 15 further threat to the general atmosphere. The third movement, on the other hand, has the temperamental character of a capriccio. If the first two themes create the impression of lighthearted humour, the third theme is a complete contrast with its nostalgic cantabile elements. It plays no part in the development, and so the piano concerto can come to a joyful conclusion.
The piano concerto in G minor op. 33 always stood in the shadow of the other two Dvorák concertos. The solo part has been criticised as being unsatisfactory. Although the pianist is faced with great challenges, he cannot really show off his virtuosity. Before this is considered as a fault, one must take into consideration that the piano concertos of Brahms and Schumann, who himself said "I see that I cannot compose a concerto for a virtuoso, I must think of something else", clearly reject any superficial virtuoso characteristics, too. In fact the soloist in the piano concerto is active over a surprisingly long period of time, but by no means does this let him triumph over the orchestra. It is remarkable, however, that great soloists have always taken an interest in the Dvorák piano concerto and that now Boris Bloch has taken up the work as well.
While the piano pieces of Frédéric Chopin have always enjoyed great popularity, Peter Tchaikovsky's piano music is overshadowed by the famous piano concerto no. 1 in B flat minor op. 23 . Since these solo pieces are characteristic of the salon concert, it is not surprising to find parallels particularly to Chopin's well-known pieces. Chopin, a native of Poland who later resided in Paris, did not conceive his four "impromptus" as a cycle but as individual works. The title seems to suggest an improvisation, and the French publicist Bernard Gavoty gives the following description: "In the four pieces we speak of, the breath of spontaneity is combined with the perfection of a polished composition."
Formally the pieces are composed similarly: two similar parts frame a central section, while the repetitions occasionally contain virtuoso decoration. The impromptus in A flat major op, 29, F sharp major op. 36 and G major op. 51 were published respectively in the years 1837, 1840 and 1843. It is incomprehensible why Chopin did not wish to publish the impromptu in C sharp minor. The final version was completed as early as 1835; it is the oldest of the four pieces and is the most often played today.
In contrast to Frédéric Chopin's works, Peter Tchaikovsky's piano compositions are overshadowed by his other works. He wrote some piano sonatas and the twelve-part album "The Seasons", but the "Doumka" op.59, composed in 1886, ranks among his greatest and most effective single pieces. Here it is Antonín Dvorák who popularised the title: A doumka is a Ukrainian dance with the characteristic alternations between slow and quick sections. This also holds true for Tchaikovsky's piano piece with its Slavic influences, which begins like a song, then runs into a demanding virtuoso fast section and at the end returns to the peaceful atmosphere of the introduction. The "Natha-Valse" dates from 1882 and belongs to a collection of six pieces op. 51. Each piece has a different dedicatee. The "Natha-Valse" was written for a friend of the composer's sister. As early as in 1878, Tchaikovsky had written a waltz for Natalia Pleskaia, but four years later he revised and expanded this piece, furnishing it with greater pianistic demands. On the CD, the "Natha-Valse" completes a series of solo pieces originally intended for the salon containing pianistic challenges and requiring a tasteful performance for the complete unfolding of their effect. A genuine rarity comes from Peter Tchaikovsky's music to Alexander Ostrovksky's play "The Snow Maiden". The incidental music, composed in 1873, predates better-known stage works such as the ballet "Swan Lake" (1876) and the opera
"Eugen Onegin" (1878). Tchaikovsky's pupil Alexander Siloti (1863 - 1945) arranged the enchanting "Nocturne" for piano. Siloti was a cousin of Sergei Rachmaninov and was himself active as pianist, conductor and composer. This arrangement is a delightful addition to Tchaikovsky's piano music. Michael Tegethoff