About this Recording
2.110284 - NEBOLSIN, Eldar: Live in Concert in St. Petersburg - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / RACHMANINOV, S. / BEETHOVEN, L. van (NTSC)

Eldar Nebolsin
Live in Concert in St Petersburg


Eldar Nebolsin is one of the leading pianists of our time, who comes, in my opinion, from a truly Russian school of piano playing. He captivates the audience every time he touches the piano keys, and his sincerity, passion and very balanced, refined emotions are unparalleled. Eldar’s sense of style and the many colours of his piano sound are two of his main qualities. Orchestral players always appreciate his clarity and the beautifully judged simplicity of his musical ideas.

This concert 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

Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Piano Concerto was completed in 1874–5 (between November and 9 February): pianistically, however, the bravura form we know it in today (incorporating improvements in all probability suggested by Edward Dannreuther and Alexander Siloti) was consolidated only by the third edition of 1888–9. ‘Worthless’ and ‘unplayable’ was the reaction of Nikolay Rubinstein, influential director of the Moscow Conservatory; in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck on 21 January 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote:

It appeared… that passages were trite, awkward, and so clumsy that it was impossible to put them right, that as composition it was bad and tawdry, that I had filched this bit from here and that bit from there, that there were only two or three pages that could be retained, and that the rest would have to be scrapped or completely revised… I can’t convey to you the most significant thing—that is, the tone in which all this was delivered. In a word, any outsider who chanced to come into the room might have thought that I was an imbecile, an untalented scribbler, who understood nothing, who had come to an eminent musician to pester him with rubbish… I was not only stunned, I was mortified by the whole scene.

Rubinstein was not alone in his opinion. ‘Hardly destined… to become classical’ was the judgement of American critics following the work’s first performance (by the dedicatee, the great German pianist Hans von Bülow, in Boston Music Hall on 25 October 1875), and for one St Petersburg critic, reporting the first Russian performance (13 November 1875 with Gustav Kross and Eduard Nápravnik), it was ‘like the first pancake… a flop’.

Von Bülow, in a letter to Tchaikovsky of 1 June 1875, admired it unreservedly: ‘So original in thought (yet never affected), so noble, so strong, so interesting in details (the quantity of which never interferes with the clearness and unity of the conception as a whole)… In short, this is a real pearl and you deserve the gratitude of all pianists.’ Subsequently Rubinstein repented, conducting the Moscow premiere (with the young Sergei Taneyev, the originally intended dedicatee and the future teacher of Scriabin, as soloist on 3 December 1875), and later even learning the piano part.

Underlined by overt folksong—Ukrainian in the outer movements and French in the D flat middle one—and covert Schumannesque cipher identities, the B flat minor Concerto is a resplendent ‘war-horse’ of the virtuoso repertoire. Nothing in the history of the nineteenth-century concerto or its survival into the twentieth is so glorious as the sweepingly magnificent (tonally suspending/negating) prologue and epilogue with which the first and third movements begin and end. Nothing is so tenderly loving or teasingly flirtatious as the second movement with its combined function of lullaby and scherzo, aria and ditty. And—witness the celebrated opening fortissimo piano chords (in their third edition massiveness, a Silotism borrowed as much from a very new nocturne by the fourteen-year-old Rachmaninov, 12 January 1888, as from Anton Rubinstein’s Fifth Concerto, 1874) pitted against mezzo-forte violin and cello melody—nothing better illustrates the firing of a creative urge ‘by the dramatic possibilities within the confrontation of heroic soloist and eloquent orchestra’ (David Brown, 1982).

Ateş Orga

Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor in 1900 and 1901, dedicating it to Dr Nikolay Dahl. The second and third movements of this most popular of all Romantic concertos were completed in the summer of 1900 and the first movement in the following year. In November 1901 it was performed in Moscow under the direction of Ziloti, with the composer as soloist, and was received with the greatest enthusiasm. The work has retained its position in concert repertoire, although it has at the same time had a more unfortunate influence on lesser works that have nothing of the innovative inspiration of their model.

The first movement of the concerto opens with a series of dramatic chords from the soloist—an introduction to the first theme, proposed by the strings, accompanied by piano arpeggios. The E flat major second subject is introduced by a phrase on the viola then stated rhapsodically by the soloist; it is further developed in a central section before a great dynamic climax and the return of the first subject, now marked Maestoso. Calm returns for the orchestra to revisit the second subject, now with an air of intense nostalgia, before the final coda. In the slow movement the orchestra moves from C minor to the remoter key of E major, to be joined by the soloist in music of characteristic figuration, with the principal theme introduced by flute and clarinet before being taken up by the soloist. There is a central section of greater animation and mounting tension, leading to a powerful cadenza, followed by the return of the principal theme. With scarcely a pause the orchestra embarks on the final Allegro scherzando, providing the modulation to the original key. A piano cadenza leads to the first theme, while a second theme, marked Moderato, is announced by the oboe and violas. Both are treated rhapsodically by the soloist, the second theme offering a romantic contrast to the more energetic rhythm of the first. In form the movement is a rondo, with the first theme largely keeping its original key (though making its second appearance in contrapuntal imitation) and the second providing harmonic variety in different keys. The concerto ends with a grandiose apotheosis of the second theme in a triumphant C major.

The fourth of Beethoven’s thirty-two numbered piano sonatas, the Sonata in E flat major, Op 7, is first mentioned in an advertisement by the publisher Maria on 7 October 1797. The work was dedicated to Countess Babette Keglevich, the composer’s pupil, who later married Prince Innocenz Odescalchi and moved to Pressburg (now Bratislava). Countess von Keglevich is among those society ladies of Vienna whose names have been put forward as possible candidates for the position of the Immortal Beloved, the anonymous object of Beethoven’s affections, and the present sonata was known as ‘Die Verliebte’ (‘The Girl in Love’).

Keith Anderson

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