About this Recording
8.573783 - TCHAIKOVSKY, B.: Piano Trio / Cello Sonata / Cello Suite (Kazazyan, C. Marwood, Solovieva)
English 

Boris Tchaikovsky (1925–1996)
Piano Trio • Cello Sonata • Solo Cello Suite

 

Boris Tchaikovsky stands out as one of the most original composers of instrumental music in the post- Shostakovich generation. In his lifetime, he composed numerous highly praised works that include two numbered symphonies, a Sebastopol Symphony and Symphony with Harp, a Chamber Symphony, four solo concertos and six string quartets, among other chamber works and vocal music. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1949 where he studied composition under three great Russian masters—Vissarion Shebalin, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Nikolay Myaskovsky.

During his student years and through the 1950s, Tchaikovsky earned a visible reputation with a handful of impressive chamber works—including the ones featured here—that embraced the deep-rooted traditions of his teachers, while at the same time displaying a lyricism of remarkable freshness and individuality. In the 1960s, during the more liberal climate then prevalent in the Soviet Union, Tchaikovsky took a number of bold initiatives in expanding his musical language. In the major works of this period, he challenges both the procedures of classical form as well as the lyrical character of his earlier works. This new creative direction can be heard in his string quartets starting with the Second (1961), the Piano Quintet (1962) [Naxos 8.573207], and especially in three path-breaking solo instrumental concertos, each one of which presents an innovative compositional feature that is made evident to the listener. These latter works comprise the Cello Concerto (1964) in which thematic identity is tactically subverted and replaced with a bravura of textural and gestural reference points; the one-movement Violin Concerto (1969), based on the principle of nonrepetition of thematic material; and the Piano Concerto (1971) [Naxos 8.557727], the surfaces of whose five movements, embracing five different classical forms, are fractured into a mosaic of short, rhythmically rigid phrases. Each of these intrepid musical experiments reflects an ever-searching imagination, couched in a powerful and highly original musical language that can be playful at one moment and deeply moving in the next. Tchaikovsky’s quest for formal innovation continues in the works written after 1970, consolidating this decade of expansion.

In the works dating before 1960, three of which are on this recording, one already finds a number of features that anticipate the transformations that were to follow. One of these is the use of motivic material with strong rhythms, a prominent, defining feature of all Tchaikovsky’s major works. As a result, rhythmic and metric details play a vital part in each of his compositions. Another is the composer’s tendency to introduce an aggregate of terse motifs in the faster movements. This allows Tchaikovsky considerable pliability in their manipulation and transformation. We find these features very much present in the outer movements of the Piano Trio and the Cello Sonata. We are also rewarded by Tchaikovsky’s gift for writing long flowing melodic lines in their slow movements.

One of the works on the programme, the Piano Trio of 1953, earned much praise for the young composer. Firmly rooted in tonality, the work shows the influence, if only superficially, of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet of 1940. It shares with that work an opening movement marked Toccata, whose textures and attitude pay homage to the Baroque, and a concluding pair of movements that, like the Shostakovich, are of similar stately elegance. The inspiration, however, is all Tchaikovsky’s.

The opening Toccata propels its sonata sections with vigorous speed and engaging counterpoint. From the very first measure, a breathlessly paced succession of no less than half a dozen short motifs is introduced without anticipation or apology, in a tempo marked Presto. This leads directly to a syncopated theme, introduced by the piano, whose jazz-like shifts between 3/4 and 4/4 meter contrast with the accentuated downbeats in 4/4 time that dominate the first thematic group. The ideas then engage in a high-spirited conversation as they reconcile their differences in an exhilarating development section. A recapitulation follows.

In the following movement, Aria, a yearning melody emerges in three-part counterpoint, its individual phrases delicately exchanged and interwoven among the three instruments in a gracefully flowing dialogue. Following a more relaxed central section with a lilting piano accompaniment, the themes from the first section return and lead to a crescendo, by way of a rapturous duet between violin and cello.

In the final Variations, the theme lumbers out in embryonic form at the outset as a series of detached twoand three-note fragments on the piano. These phrases are taken up by the violin, then the cello, and sewn together into a flowing, serenade-like theme. The variations that follow are each built from these short constituent phrases whose rhythmic fingerprints are everywhere present. They are combined, recombined, and assembled into a lyrical embroidery of ever-changing texture and mood. In the central section, starting where the strings play pizzicato, the music takes a temporary excursion from three to two beats per measure and gradually builds to a crescendo, culminating in a stirring passage with triple and quadruple stops on the strings. The final few variations return to triple meter and bring the movement and the work to its elegiac D major conclusion.

The three-movement Cello Sonata (1957; dedicated to the composer Mieczysław Weinberg) is cast in a similarly structured three-movement format. The first movement, Allegro non troppo, in sonata form, unfolds over an impassioned ever-present stream of semiquavers. A propulsive first theme that obsesses over a four-note tattoo in 2/4 time is followed by a broad arching second theme in 3/4 time that soars over a restless piano accompaniment. After a repeated exposition, a progression of heavy piano chords introduces the development section where the two themes confront each other with relentless shifts back and forth between duple and triple meter. The encounter culminates in a brief riveting polyrhythmic passage: here, the cello, in double stops, utters a declamatory version of the second theme in compound meter (5/8) over the piano’s adaptation of the first theme in 2/4 meter. A short recapitulation follows. The second movement, Largo, is an aria that takes lyrical flight from two tender phrases: a descending figure introduced by the piano in the opening bars, and a phrase in dotted rhythm that follows on the cello. As the music progresses, the two ideas are exchanged back and forth between the instruments in elegantly dovetailed counterpoint, its airborne quality abetted by the gentle interplay between two and three beats per measure. On display is Tchaikovsky’s ability to summon the most beautiful lyricism from the simplest starting point. Toward the end, a dancelike passage, awakened by the piano’s hemiola-inflected semiquavers, invites a momentary reverie before the movement draws to its melancholic conclusion.

The final rondo, marked Andante, is built on three main ideas that are introduced at the outset. The cello, in the opening bars, presents the first theme in harmonics, then a livelier dancelike theme in pizzicato, followed by a bowed theme with a limping gait. The themes freely interact and alternate with one another with playful agility. At times their constituent intervals and rhythmic patterns will pair off and give rise to new ideas or variations that take on a life of their own. At one point, for example, the cello, in pizzicato, introduces a six-note rhythmic tattoo (a dactyl affixed to an anapest) that becomes a prominent feature of the movement, with which the movement also ends.

Tchaikovsky composed his Solo Cello Suite in 1946 at the request of Mstislav Rostropovich, a fellow student at the Moscow Conservatory. On hearing the work’s rich lyrical detail, the legendary cellist commented, ‘I already knew he was a greatly talented composer’. The composer revised the Suite in 1960 and dedicated it to Rostropovich. Its five movements provide a showcase for the suppleness of Tchaikovsky’s lyricism, as well as an example of the composer organising a composition in the form of a multipart suite, an approach he would use in a number of subsequent works, including the Partita for Cello and Chamber Ensemble (1966), the Theme and Eight Variations for orchestra (1973); and his vocal masterpiece, Signs of the Zodiac (1974) [Naxos 8.557727]. The opening Prelude is based on a theme made up of undulating scale patterns, punctuated by the occasional flourish, which flirt around the key of D minor and which recall Johann Sebastian Bach.

The following March in E minor falls into ABCBA form and features a robust theme in dotted rhythm that is contrasted by an obsessive figure in parallel ninths. The reprise of the initial theme is stated in a whispering pizzicato suggesting the style of many Russian folk song settings. The Aria in C minor is a hauntingly reflective reverie that once again reveals the lofty heights on which Tchaikovsky can set his lyrical sails. The Capriccio in D major gets a lot of cheerful mileage from a few simple rhythmic ideas. The final movement consists of a brief, somber Intermezzo followed by the Coda, which summarily recasts the undulating theme of the Prelude, now transformed from its original key of D minor to the brighter key of D major.

The first performers of the works were: Piano Trio—Victor Pikaizen (violin), Eugeny Altman (cello) and Boris Tchaikovsky (23 October 1956); Cello Sonata—Mstislav Rostropovich and Boris Tchaikovsky (2 March 1958); Solo Cello Suite—Mstislav Rostropovich (2 February 1961).

Louis Blois


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