About this Recording
GP716 - TCHAIKOVSKY, B.: Piano and Chamber Works (Solovieva, Korostelyov, Dichenko)
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Boris Tchaikovsky (1925–1996)
Piano and Chamber Works


This recording presents piano and chamber works by Boris Tchaikovsky (1925–1996) in a programme that spans 45 years of his career, from his early childhood to his mature period.

Tchaikovsky (he is not related to the composer of the Pathétique Symphony) was one of the most important Russian composers of the 20th century. Born in Moscow, he entered the Gnessin School of Music at the age of nine, continued his musical education at the Gnessin College, and subsequently at the Moscow Conservatory. At the Conservatory he studied composition under the most prominent composers of instrumental music of the day: Dmitry Shostakovich, Vissarion Shebalin, and Nikolay Myaskovsky; he studied piano in the class of Lev Oborin. Upon graduation from the Conservatory in 1949, he found employment as an editor at a radio station, a job he abandoned three years later to devote himself full time to composing. Boris Tchaikovsky’s catalogue includes four symphonies, four instrumental concertos, several large orchestral works, six string quartets, a piano quintet, several chamber and vocal pieces, and soundtracks to more than 50 films and radio plays. The first interpreters of his music include such renowned figures such as Alexander Gauk, Kirill Kondrashin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, Rudolf Barshai, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Edward Serov, Viktor Pikaizen, and the Borodin Quartet. In the last seven years of his life (from 1989) he was Professor of Composition at the Russian Academy of Music. Boris Tchaikovsky died on February 7, 1996, in Moscow.

The Sonata for Two Pianos (1973), which here receives its world première recording, is one of the most frequently performed of Boris Tchaikovsky’s chamber works. It provides a notable example of the mosaic approach to composition that Tchaikovsky evolved during the 1960s and which became a hallmark of his mature style. Characteristic of this approach is a pronounced rhythmic element wherein the music’s surface is broken into a succession of short, strongly accented, often repetitive motifs or rhythmic cells.

These features not only characterize Tchaikovsky’s highly individual lyrical style, they also form the generative building blocks of his compositions. The layout of the Sonata for Two Pianos is also distinctive in that standard sonata structure is patently avoided in each of its three movements. And yet the spirit and sense of the classical sonata is manifestly preserved. The first movement (Resonances), a toccata-fantasia, embraces the kind of short rhythmic motifs described above, adorned with brief lyrical interludes. The individual ideas stand their ground autonomously, almost defiantly, in brazen contrast to one another, as the movement advances with riveting drama. If the ideas at first seem stern and impassive, a closer acquaintance reveals them as reflections of the human heart, and as resonances, as per the subtitle, with infinite silence. The subtitle of the second movement, Voice of the Fields, may suggest a specific landscape. Yet as in Tchaikovsky’s other works that bear similarly descriptive titles (such as the tone poem, Wind of Siberia), it is an exploration of the inner soul. The movement unfolds as a set of variations on a theme that initially takes the form of a gently undulating progression of chords. Upon each statement of the theme, the chords undergo prismatic alterations as if being illuminated from different angles. The colourful textures and the exploration of the extreme registers of the piano have suggested an orchestral sound to some listeners. The composer, himself, remarked about this movement, “It is a kind of full score.” The longest variation, in staccato and embellished with trills, leads to a crescendo, after which the movement ends with a seraphic statement of the theme in the piano’s highest octaves. The final movement, Etude, is a tour de force in the sense that all of its themes are drawn from the same pool of short scalewise patterns. Peppered with rhythmic punctuations, the scalewise material takes on a playful variety of appearances: ascending, descending, overlapping, in augmentation and diminution. At times they seem to make humorous reference to Hanon’s five-finger exercises as they bring the sonata to a cheerful and virtuosic conclusion. But lurking beneath the major-key frivolity one may find an undercurrent of anxiety, perhaps an apocalyptic vision, as one finds, for example, in the finale of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano (1959) was written for the distinguished violinist Viktor Pikaizen, a pupil of the great David Oistrakh. The work displays Tchaikovsky’s considerable lyrical gifts as one finds them manifested in the early piano pieces. The melodies are beautifully crafted and reveal the rich lyrical mine that also informs his more experimental works such as the Violin Concerto, written a decade later. As in the concerto, the soloist performs almost without pause and is given virtuosic opportunity throughout. The Sonata is cast in two movements, marked Andante and Allegro, respectively, each of which is cast in sonata form. The thematic material of the first movement is elegiac and dignified. The first theme is stately and somewhat mournful, while the broadly soaring, boldly rhythmic theme is introduced over a dance-like figure in the piano. After a brief return to the first theme, the development section commences as the two themes interact, not so much in confrontation, but in passionate embrace of one another. A recapitulation follows. Soon after, over the violin’s final held note of the Andante, the piano introduces the two syncopated themes of the second movement, Allegro, the second theme being more boldly rhythmic than the first. In the development section, the two themes are brought together in a joyous repartee that takes full advantage of their displaced accents. In the course of the recapitulation, the violin joins the soaring theme from the Andante with the boldly rhythmic theme of the Allegro. Soon the opening theme of the Andante returns and is gently woven into a final summary that brings the work to a gratifying conclusion.

The piano miniatures on this recording reveal the young composer’s first formal works for the instrument. Rather than a show of bravura and concert lustre, we find a tone of restraint that one might compare to the piano styles of Medtner and Myaskovsky. The spare texture chosen by Tchaikovsky in these works highlights the elemental beauty of the piano’s timbres.

In Five Pieces (1935) we find the young composer testing a variety of classical models. One can hear the influence of Bach, Mozart, Schumann, and early Scriabin in these earliest miniatures, as well as the emerging melodic gifts of the young composer. Melody, the first piece in the cycle, though brief in duration, features an endlessly unfolding tune. The Pastorale movement invokes the sound of Orthodox liturgical singing.

The quality of music written by the eleven-year-old composer in the Five Preludes (1936) is impressive. Form and style are handled with confidence, as are the bold flights of imagination. In the Prelude in G sharp minor (No. 1), for example, the invocation of pealing bells joins a long-standing tradition among Russian composers who have been drawn to the same aural imagery, among them Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov, Arensky, and Myaskovsky. Notably, Tchaikovsky returns to this iconic Russian sound in his unfinished orchestral work, Prelude “The Bells”, dating from the year of his death and left in piano score. The Prelude in B flat minor (No. 2) is a tone poem in miniature that, once again, is built on the sound of chiming bells, here growing in intensity toward a glowing crescendo. The Prelude in A flat major (No. 3) portrays a feeling that one might describe as “light through tears.” The Prelude in B minor (No. 4) forms the cycle’s emotional core, an inspiration as innocent as it is pure, expressed as a recitative arioso. The final Prelude in A major (No. 5) brings the work to a sensitive conclusion. Notably, in his final orchestral score, Symphony with Harp (1993), Tchaikovsky incorporates a number of preludes from this early cycle in virtually unchanged form. These self-quotations from childhood in this valedictory work symbolise not only the closure and finality of life’s circle, they also bear testimony to the notion that a genius comes into the world with an innate style that grows, gets stronger, and gathers its fate and fortune with the passing years.

The fleeting impressions of the Five Pieces (1938) are as brief as they are exploratory. The turns of phrase in the opening Prelude are based on a simple four-note idea. The Fairy Tale captures the magical essence of that most representative genre of Russian culture. Remembrance alternates a gently galloping tune with tenderly reflective material. Mazurka appears not as an absolute embodiment of the form but rather as an indirect, if somewhat whimsical reference to it. Story is a colourful example of piano narration, both songful and tender.

The Three Etudes (1935, 1972, 1980), cast in the keys of F sharp minor, B flat major and E major, respectively, are short improvisatory sketches of a romantic character whose rhythmic energy and delicate lyricism reach unexpected levels of inspiration given their short duration. Almost half a century separates the first and last of these Etudes, though the style and attitude of each are totally consistent with one another. The middle Etude in B flat major, with its repeated note accompaniment, is a caricature of a well-known instructional exercise.

March (1945) falls into the popular genre of wartime marches; its extroverted tunes capture the spirit of determination and resilience of the time. The stylistic similarities to the Prelude (1945), dating from the same year, are evident in that both are cast in march rhythm and contain certain shifts of harmony and turns of phrase that bring Prokofiev’s piano music to mind.

The manuscript of Three Pieces (1945) was found after the composer’s death by his widow, Yanina-Irena Iossifovna Moshinskaya (1920–2013), and handed over to The Boris Tchaikovsky Society. These pieces had never been previously published. The first piece of this mini-cycle was left incomplete. We hear it in this recording with its final bars expertly reconstructed by Dmitry Korostelyov. The composer’s score indicates the dates of completion of the remaining two pieces: 14.11.1945 (Romance) and 27.10.1945 (Finale). The music of Three Pieces shows a spiritual resonance with his former teacher, Nikolay Myaskovsky, in the dark, restless, unquiet images that are presented. These qualities appear here not as detached entities, but as obstacles in the quest for light and purity that are achieved in a world of reveries and prayers.

Louis Blois
(drawn from notes and documents provided by Yuri Abdokov and Igor Prokhorov)

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