The Euphoria of Rokas Valuntonis
St Andrew Holborn
After his superb recital for the City Music Foundation last month at St Bartholemew the Great in Smithfields https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/presenting-the-impeccable-maestro-valuntonis/10156459912307309/
Just a month later we were able to hear him in another of the great churches in the centre of London that dedicate themselves also to classical music :St Andrew Holborn.
Playing the great warhorse that Nikolai Rubinstein had declared worthless and unplayable.
Tchaikowsky deeply offended refused to change a note.
It was Hans von Bulow to whom Tchaikowsky dedicated the score and who gave the first performance in Boston in 1875 of a work that he described :” The ideas are so original,so noble,so powerful.The details so interesting;though there are many of them ,they do not impair the clearness and unity of the work .The form is mature,ripe,and distinguished in style.”
Bulow sent what is thought to be the first cable ever dispatched from Boston to Moscow telling Tchaikowsky of the concerto’s undisputed triumph with the Boston public.
The superb programme notes had me wanting to know more about this concerto that I have heard all my life.
From the very first performance with Jerome Rose at the Albert Hall on their Tchaikowsky nights to Rokas Valuntonis and Alice Sarah Ott’s performances this week.
Via such notable performances by Byron Janis,Artur Rubinstein,Beatrice Rana,Shura Cherkassky,Van Cliburn,Martha Argerich,Peter Katin,Yuja Wang but above all Clifford Curzon………………
The first performance of the original version took place on October 25, 1875, in Boston, conducted by Benjamin Johnson Lang and with Bülow as soloist. Bülow had initially engaged a different conductor, but they quarrelled, and Lang was brought in on short notice.
According to Alan Walker, the concerto was so popular that Bülow was obliged to repeat the Finale, a fact that Tchaikovsky found astonishing. Although the premiere was a success with the audience, the critics were not so impressed.
One wrote that the concerto was “hardly destined ..to become classical”.
George Whitefield Chadwick, who was in the audience, recalled in a memoir years later: “They had not rehearsed much and the trombones got in wrong in the ‘tutti’ in the middle of the first movement, whereupon Bülow sang out in a perfectly audible voice, The brass may go to hell“.(sic)
However, the work fared much better at its performance in New York City on November 22, under Leopold Damrosch.Benjamin Johnson Lang appeared as soloist in a complete performance of the concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on February 20, 1885, under Wilhelm Gericke. Lang previously performed the first movement with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March 1883, conducted by Georg Henschel, in a concert in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
The Russian premiere took place on November 1/13, 1875 in Saint Petersburg, with the Russian pianist Gustav Kross and the Czech conductor Eduard Nápravník. In Tchaikovsky’s estimation, Kross reduced the work to “an atrocious cacophony”.
The Moscow premiere took place on November 21/December 3, 1875, with Sergei Taneyev as soloist.
The conductor was none other than Nikolai Rubinstein, the same man who had comprehensively criticised the work less than a year earlier.
Rubinstein had come to see its merits, and he played the solo part many times throughout Europe. He even insisted that Tchaikovsky entrust the premiere of his Second Piano Concerto to him, and the composer would have done so had Rubinstein not died.
At that time, Tchaikovsky considered rededicating the work to Taneyev, who had performed it splendidly, but ultimately the dedication went to Bülow.
Tchaikovsky published the work in its original form, but in 1876 he happily accepted advice on improving the piano writing from German pianist Edward Dannreuther, who had given the London premiere of the work, and from Russian pianist Alexander Siloti several years later.
The solid chords played by the soloist at the opening of the concerto may in fact have been Siloti’s idea, as they appear in the first (1875) edition as rolled chords, somewhat extended by the addition of one or sometimes two notes which made them more inconvenient to play but without significantly altering the sound of the passage.
Various other slight simplifications were also incorporated into the published 1879 version. Further small revisions were undertaken for a new edition published in 1890.
The American pianist Malcolm Frager unearthed and performed the original version of the concerto and in 2015, Kirill Gerstein made the world premiere recording of the 1879 version. It received an ECHO Klassik award in the Concerto Recording of the Year category. Based on Tchaikovsky’s own conducting score from his last public concert, the new critical Urtext edition was published in 2015 by the Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin, tying in with Tchaikovsky’s 175th anniversary and marking 140 years since the concerto’s world premiere in Boston in 1875.
For the recording, Kirill Gerstein was granted special pre-publication access to the new Urtext edition.
Yuja Wang recently played this version too and Julian Trevelyan is playing this early version this same evening in St Albans
Rokas chose to play the established 1890 version with this newly formed orchestra created in December 2012 by Dario Peluso and Celia Talbot.
Infact it is thanks to Celia Talbot that we were give an exemplary programme free of the usual empty PR tactics.
Both financial sector professionals they share a passion for the performing arts.
L ondon E uphonia O rchestra
– LEO is made up of a dedicated group of people from varied backgrounds:from full time musicians to students,doctors,lawyers,policemen,charity workers,bankers,teachers,scientists and journalists ,all with musical talent and passion in common.
Dario as Rokas Valuntonis both receive guidance from Professor Peter Bithell who was present with Linn Rothstein to admire and encourage this new formation.
A very fine performance for Rokas Valuntonis on his first outing with this old warhorse.
Some beautiful things not least the wonderful sense of balance that allows the melodic line to shine through no matter what!
There were one of two moments where Rokas’s “liquidity of sound and devillish performance skill” managed to shine through thick and thin from one or two moments where the brass and woodwind were also at their virgin state with Tchaikowsky’s complex scoring.
There was no doubt about which edition was being used as the great chords rang out above some very radiant and expressive string playing.
Some truly superb playing especially in the cadenza where the bell like appearance of the melodic line was wonderfully realised.
The octaves of course were dispatched not only as a great virtuoso but also given a shape a direction that only a mature artist of stature could perceive.
The slow movement after some initial confusion from the orchestra was lit by the the magical sounds from the piano.
If the “devillish” playing of the prestissimo section caught the orchestra slightly off balance it was a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of shape and sound that they all brought to this moment of peace and simplicity.
The Russian dance derived from a Ukranian melody in the last movement was played with great rhythmic energy leading to the majestic sweep and passionate outpouring for which this concerto has become the symbol of the great romantic concerto repertoire .