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8.557794 - KABALEVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 3 / RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Piano Concerto
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Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky (1904-1987):
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 50
Rhapsody for piano and orchestra on the theme of the song
School Years, Op. 75 
Poem of Struggle, Op. 12

Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 30


Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was a Russian pianist, composer, teacher and music critic, who greatly contributed to the development of a system of musical education for children. Many of his songs for children became musical symbols of the Soviet era. Written in 1952, his Third Piano Concerto in D major, Op. 50, Dedicated to the Soviet Youth completes the triad of instrumental concertos for young people (preceded by his Violin Concerto, 1948, and Cello Concerto, 1949). It had its première in 1953 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the symphony orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic and the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy as a soloist, conducted by the composer.

In this optimistic, conflict-free work, Kabalevsky depicted the scenes of happy childhood and youth of the Soviet era. Because the concerto was aimed at young pianists, it is not technically demanding, and its musical language is simple in style, lucid, and clear. Melodic material of the concerto is varied: it contains song-like, lyrical music, as well as boisterous, marching themes. Much of the thematic material is closely related to Russian folk-songs, earning Kabalevksy great respect among some Soviet musicologists.

The first movement, marked Allegro molto, strongly reminiscent of the sparkling overture to Kabalevsky’s opera Colas Breugnon (1937), after Romain Rolland. It is boisterous, playful, and optimistic in nature. The second theme is lyrical, with song-like qualities; it is one of those tunes that listeners will remember after just one hearing. A march-like section that replaces the development displays close intonational relationship with a similar episode from the final movement of the concerto, thus helping unite the whole work. The second movement, Andante con moto, has a lucid texture. The first theme is close to a Ukrainian folk-song, and towards the end of the first half the composer gracefully introduces the second theme, the melody of his own song Our Land. Written for children and young people, it became a quintessential song of the Soviet era, singing praise to the happy and cloudless childhood of Russian citizens. The finale depicts a cheerful, enthusiastic approach to life by the young people of the 1950s and their resolute expression of optimism for a bright future. It opens with a bubbly, scintillating piano part, depicting perhaps some kind of celebration, or maybe playtime at a fairground. Marching rhythms of the finale’s section that replaces the development suggest a youth festival, the spirit of jolly children’s games, and a general sense of happiness.

Kabalevsky’s Rhapsody for piano and orchestra, Op. 75, was written in 1964 for a Dmitry Kabalevsky Competition for young pianists in Kuybïshev. Dedicated to ‘Young Musicians of the Volga region’, it also bears the epigraph: ‘No, no one will ever forget school years’. It had its première on 29 March 1964, given by the participants in the competition. This work belongs to a large group of pieces written by Kabalevsky for children and young people. The composer based his Rhapsody, consisting of an introduction, ten variations, and a coda, on the theme of his song School Years, composed in 1957. It became one of the most popular Soviet songs, in which a ‘golden childhood of Soviet schoolchildren’ is extolled. Although the meaning of its words may appear somewhat idealised, it does not carry in itself any particular Soviet ideology, and was written after the death of Stalin, during the years of the ‘Thaw’.

The Poem of Struggle, with words by A. Zharov, was Kabalevsky’s first major work, which had its première on 6 November 1931 in Moscow and was broadcast on the All-Union Radio. In this composition Kabalevsky endeavoured to depict the atmosphere of contemporary modern reality. The music of this onemovement work is energetic, powerful, with fanfare elements and marching rhythms. The chorus appears in the final part with words that address the theme of revolutionary change of the world:

It makes no difference: twenty-five or ten;
If there are thunderstorms in October or May;
It makes no difference: soon we will turn
Every month into October!
Today the wanderer blizzard,
In the autumnal ring of the aspen woods,
Rushes to agitated and angry Berlin.
Today in Dresden gunfire will sound
From rusty rooftops, and tomorrow
We will storm into Paris and Warsaw.
We will sail from London to New York
Under the banner of storms!
But this circle will become too small,
And we will turn towards the Far East!
We know: soon every month
Will become another country’s October!

Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a composer and teacher, and one of the members of the famous Mighty Handful. His fame rests chiefly on his operas and symphonic works, as well as arrangements, completions, and orchestrations of compositions of his colleague and friend Modest Mussorgsky. His Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 30, (1882) was an unusual work for a composer whose pianistic skills were thought to be less than great by his fellow members of the Mighty Handful. Rimsky-Korsakov worked on his piano technique, however, and achieved a degree of ability on the instrument unsuspected by his colleagues. It thus came as a great surprise to them that he was able to write such a successful work in the genre, which is now among his more important concert pieces.

This one-movement concerto was built on the theme of a folk-song Sobiraytes’-ka, bratsï-rebyatyshki (Gather, brothers), seventeenth in Balakirev’s compilation Forty Russian Folk Songs. The form of the concerto is close to Balakirev’s piano fantasy Islamey and Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, but at the same time it shows the characteristics of sonata form and free symphonic variations.

When Mussorgsky died in 1881, Rimsky-Korsakov immediately began the task of completing and arranging his unfinished works. While he was orchestrating Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina in the summer of 1882, he also worked on his own Piano Concerto. In September he showed the concerto to his mentor, Balakirev, who was greatly astonished by it. Rimsky- Korsakov wrote in his autobiography that Balakirev ‘had by no means expected that I, who was not a pianist, should know how to compose anything entirely pianistic’. In 1883 the score was finished, and the work had its première on 27th February 1884 at the Free Music School in St Petersburg, conducted by Balakirev. A young talented pianist of high repute, Nikolay Lavrov, was the soloist. In St Petersburg, the concerto was described as an ‘excellent attempt to introduce the folk spirit into this part of musical repertoire, which is the most affected by old tired routine’. One critic wrote about the concerto that it was a ‘symphonic poem on folk-themes with the use of piano’. César Cui, Rimsky- Korsakov’s colleague and fellow member of the Mighty Handful, wrote that the concerto was ‘adorable from the beginning to end’. He thought it was reminiscent of ‘the best pages of Rimsky’s opera Snegurochka, and was noticeably influenced by Chopin and Liszt, showing an ‘amalgamation of amazing technique with strong talent and very delicate discerning taste.’ In Moscow, the respected composer, pianist, and pedagogue Taneyev, known for his unbending devotion to counterpoint, early Netherlands composers, and Mozart, was not impressed with the work after hearing it for the first time. After being told that the concerto was built on just one theme, however, Taneyev immediately became interested, listened attentively for various contrapuntal intricacies, and declared that ‘Korsakov’s concerto is a very talented and interesting work’. Indeed, Rimsky-Korsakov employed several contrapuntal techniques such as fragmentation, inversion, and canon.

This work is a successful attempt at interpreting the genre of instrumental concerto from the viewpoint of creative practices of the Mighty Handful. The slow introduction presents the main theme in its original variant in the clarinet. It then appears as lively Polish and Russian dances, in a series of slowly unfolding variations. The F major Andante plays the rôle of a second subject or a middle section of the three-part composition. Contrasting lyrical, and rhythmical and dance-like episodes appear in the final section, while the closing episode is reminiscent of a coda from Balakirev’s Eastern Fantasy. Musical writing in the concerto is inventive and expressive, and the piano often takes on a more descriptive, orchestral rôle, as, for example, in the episodes reminiscent of tolling church bells, or psaltery-like arpeggio chords of the Andante. Despite all this highly descriptive and ornamental style, however, not once does th e composer resort to using virtuosity purely as a vehicle for displaying a performer’s virtuoso abilities.

Anastasia Belina

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