About this Recording
2.110283 - YANG, Tianwa: Live in Concert in St Petersburg - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / BRAHMS, J. / YSAŸE, E. / BACH, J.S. (NTSC)

Tianwa Yang
Live in Concert in St Petersburg


Tianwa Yang is one of the most unusual and energetic violinists of our time. She delivers every note with an enormous intensity, which establishes a connection with the audience right away. Hearing her musical style brings hope that the golden era of violin playing has a very bright future. This concert was Tianwa’s Russian debut.

The event took place within the twenty-first Palaces of St Petersburg festival, at the most beautiful time of the year in St Petersburg: the ‘White Nights’. With the participation of prominent artists in the magnificent interiors of the palaces, the festival celebrates Russian historical and musical traditions, also incorporating first performances of new compositions.

The Court Capella boasts one of the best concert halls in Russia, both acoustically and aesthetically; it is at the heart of St Petersburg’s musical history. Built in 1889 by Benoir to replace a smaller concert hall, it was partly responsible for the birth and growth of Russian professional art. Thanks also to the Court Capella institute and the hall’s historical organ, it became a phenomenon in the world of music. The organ was built by the English firm EF Walker in 1891 and taken from its original place in the Dutch church on Nevsky Prospect in 1927 to be installed in the Capella. The Capella’s choir dates back to 1479 when, by order of Great Duke Ivan III, a choir was created in Moscow. Since then it has constantly amazed audiences with its singing and in 1703 the group was moved to St Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia. The architectural style of the Capella ranges from the baroque to the twentieth century, while the area outside the venue, lying just off Palace Square, was recently renovated as part of a city regeneration programme.

Vladimir Lande

It was in March 1878, in the Swiss resort of Clarens where he had sought some respite after the disaster of his marriage, that Tchaikovsky set to work on his Violin Concerto. He was joined there by the young violinist Iosif Kotek, who, after his graduation at Moscow Conservatory in 1876, had been employed in the household of Nadezhda von Meck. Kotek played through a great deal of violin and piano music with Tchaikovsky, including Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Two days after they had played through this work Tchaikovsky started writing his own concerto, drawing inspiration from the freshness, lightness and piquant rhythms he found in Lalo’s music. Just over a week later it was ready and Kotek—‘Kotik’ (‘Tomcat’) to Tchaikovsky—was able to play it through, much to the general approval of Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, who had joined the party. The original slow movement was subsequently replaced by the Canzonetta.

The concerto received its first performance from Adolf Brodsky in Vienna in 1881. Critical reaction to it was mixed, the influential critic Eduard Hanslick condemning what he regarded as a trivial ‘Cossack’ element in music that must have appeared to him foreign and barbarous. It was Brodsky who gave the first performance in Russia, in Moscow, the following year.

The first movement of the concerto maintains an almost Classical balance of form. It opens with a brief introduction of mounting excitement, interrupted as the soloist leads into his first theme. The second subject is extended by the soloist and is followed by a development section that veers away from a suggested return of the first subject to offer a new theme. An exciting cadenza leads back to the principal subject, a reworking of the first section of the movement, and an exhilarating conclusion. The Canzonetta is introduced by wind instruments, after which the soloist, with the simplest accompaniment, plays a typically Russian melody, a moment of relative tranquillity before the irrepressible energy and brilliance of the final Allegro vivacissimo.

The discarded slow movement of the concerto was to be included in a work designed to thank Nadezhda von Meck for a period in the summer of 1878 spent, in her absence, at her estate at Brailov, in the Ukraine. The set of three pieces was given the flattering title Souvenir d’un lieu cher. The opening Méditation, the concerto’s original slow movement recast for violin and piano, is followed by a Scherzo, leading to the final Mélodie. The three pieces were later orchestrated by Glazunov.

Brahms completed his Violin Concerto in 1878 and dedicated it to his friend Joseph Joachim. Brahms worked on it during his summer holiday at Pörtschach, where in 1877 he had started his Second Symphony. The first performance of the work was given in Leipzig on New Year’s Day, 1879, with Joachim as the soloist. The concerto combines two complementary aspects of the composer: that of the artist concerned with the great and serious, as a contemporary critic put it, and that of the lyrical composer of songs. As always Brahms was critical of his own work, and the concerto, long promised, had been the subject of his usual doubts and hesitations. Originally four movements had been planned, but in the end the two middle movements were replaced by the present Adagio, music that Brahms described as feeble but that pleased Joachim as much as it has always pleased audiences.

The first movement opens with an orchestral exposition in which the first subject is incompletely presented in the initial bars. Its full appearance is entrusted to the soloist, after the orchestra has offered a second subject and other themes that will later seem eminently well suited to the solo violin. The actual entry of the soloist and the approach to it must remind us of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with its rather longer orchestral exposition that had so taxed the patience of Viennese audiences seventy years earlier. The cadenza Brahms left to Joachim, whose advice on this and other matters he was willing to heed. The slow movement is splendidly lyrical, based on a melody of great beauty, which is expanded and developed by the soloist and the orchestra, dying away before the vigorous opening of the Hungarian-style finale. This, in rondo form, is of great variety, intervening episodes providing a contrast with the energetic principal theme, leading to a conclusion of mounting excitement.

Ysaÿe’s best-known compositions, at least among violinists, to whom they present a constant technical and musical challenge, are the very demanding Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27, published in 1924, each of them dedicated to a distinguished contemporary player, whose style of performance they reflect. The single-movement Sonata No 3 in D minor, ‘Ballade’, is dedicated to the great Romanian violinist and composer George Enescu, the principal later teacher of Yehudi Menuhin in Paris. It opens in the manner of a recitative, leading to a passage in 5/4 and then a 3/8 Allegro giusto with dotted rhythms as the tale unfolds. Rapid triplet figuration precedes a brief relaxation before the dotted rhythms return, leading to the excitement of the ending.

Keith Anderson

Bach’s Violin Partita No 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 follows the traditional grouping of dance movements, concluding with a Chaconne. The five dances are linked harmonically in that each begins with a progression of harmonies whose basses consist of the notes D – C sharp – D – B flat – A, emphasising the essential cohesion of the suite. The Allemande serves the purpose of a prelude, introducing us to the mood of the suite through what the Dutch violinist Jaap Schröder has described as ‘linear polyphony’, harmonies being implied through a succession of broken chords. Within the flow of semiquavers are a number of rhythmic shifts including dotted quavers, triplets and little bursts of demisemiquavers. The ebullient Courante, fast in comparison to the Allemande, flows with energy communicated through triplets and vivacious dotted rhythms. The dignified dance of the Sarabande is profoundly serious in atmosphere, expressing the emotional heart of the four primary dance forms preceding the Chaconne. With no intervening Bourrée or Minuet, the transition to the stately but lively Gigue almost takes the listener by surprise. But this Gigue, in 12/8 time, a rhythmic amalgamation of opening triplets and fluent semiquavers, is neither boisterous nor especially close to the dance. Rather it is a brilliant instrumental vehicle for a display of gentle virtuosity in its structural role as a mediator between the four dances of the suite and the mighty Chaconne finale.

Graham Wade

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