Notes and Editorial Reviews
Maciej Grzybowski (pn);
Paul Daniel, cond;
class="ARIAL12">Nico de Villiers (pn)
TOCCATA 0204 (70:53)
André Tchaikowsky (1935–1982) was born Robert Krauthammer in Warsaw. His name was changed by his grandmother Celina as a survival ploy during the war, when the young boy lived with his mother in the Warsaw ghetto. Celina chose the surname Tchaikowsky (originally Czajkowski), but André came to regret it once his career as a concert pianist began to flourish. A musical child prodigy, his technique, memory, and sight-reading skills were legendary in the music world. His fame peaked in the late 1950s and early 60s. A mercurial personality, he was frequently stubborn, and made a habit of burning bridges—traits that resulted in a faltering career and a dearth of recording opportunities. His best-known recordings are of Chopin and Bach, although his repertoire was wide. The exhaustive notes with this release tell a number of stories that indicate his quirkiness: He was annoyed by a mediocre audience response to one of his recitals, so for an encore he played the
in its entirety. In his will, he donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used in productions of
Like other pianist-composers such as Schnabel and Weissenberg, the music Tchaikowsky wrote sounds nothing like the music he played. While not always strictly 12-tone, his harmony is uncompromisingly atonal. Schoenberg is a clear influence, with parts of the piano concerto sounding very much like Schoenberg’s own. The writing has little of the decorative quality usually associated with virtuoso instrumentalists; rather, it is tough and sinewy, and immensely difficult to learn (as Radu Lupu discovered, preparing the piano concerto for its premiere in London in 1975). This concerto is actually the composer’s Second, and has been played more often than his First. It is in three linked movements, lasting 28:24 in this live performance from the Bregenz Festspiel in 2013. The most interesting section is the middle movement,
, opening with a capricious four-note figure on the piano underlined by percussion, which then undergoes a series of free variations. A number of composers using atonal harmony in a concerto format seem to have difficulty knowing how to end the work: There can be no arrival at the home key, so the music just gets louder and busier towards the end, then stops. Tchaikowsky’s Concerto is as unsatisfying as Schoenberg’s in this regard, but elsewhere the writing is tautly constructed with a real sense of purpose, clearly communicated in this performance by Polish pianist Grzybowski. Conductor Paul Daniel controls the tricky interplay between piano and orchestra with precision.
The 10 Inventions of 1961–62 are aphoristic pieces, rendering Bachian counterpoint in Schoenbergian language. Idiomatically written for the keyboard, as you would expect, some of the inventions display an overtly virtuosic sheen (such as No. 4, marked
). Fichert is fluent and clean, but I imagine Hamelin or Hough would find more color here: greater playfulness in No. 3 (
Leggiero e vivace
), quirkier humor in No. 6 (
), or a more potent feeling of mystery in the Debussyan No. 5a (
). A close-up recording balance does not help. Nevertheless, this collection of pieces is my favorite music on the disc. The Piano Sonata (1958) is a tightly organized work, with an unsmiling
at its center and a swift, angular Finale. Again, it is played with authority (by de Villiers) and closely recorded. (According to the credits, Fichert and de Villiers each acted as producer at the other’s recording session.)
A fascinating disc, this is labeled as
Volume One: Music for Piano
, suggesting that future volumes will contain music for other instruments––possibly the two string quartets and Clarinet Sonata. They should be worth investigating. There is nothing throwaway or casual about Tchaikowsky’s work as a composer, even though his main reputation lay elsewhere. On this evidence he was a serious creative artist.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Piano Concerto, Op. 4 by Andre Tchaikovsky
Maciej Grzybowski (Piano)
Date of Recording: 07/22/2013
Venue: Festspielhaus, Bregenz
Length: 27 Minutes 43 Secs.
Inventions, for piano, Op. 2 by Andre Tchaikovsky
Jakob Fichert (Piano)
Venue: Leeds College Of Music
Length: 22 Minutes 50 Secs.
Piano Sonata by Andre Tchaikovsky
Nico De Villiers (Piano)
Venue: Leeds College Of Music
Length: 16 Minutes 51 Secs.
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