A Tribute to Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Thème original et variations in F major, No. 6 from Six Pieces, Op. 19 (1873) [11:38]
Nocturne, No. 1 from 2 Morceaux, Op. 10 (1871) [3:52]
Romance in F minor, Op. 5 (1868)
Romance in F major, No. 5 from Six Pieces, Op. 51 (1882) [7:02]
Valse sentimentale in F minor, Op. 51 No. 6 (1882) [5:10]
Rêverie interrompue in A flat Major, No.12 from 12 Morceaux de difficulté moyenne, Op. 40 (1878) [4:20]
Capriccio in G flat major, Op. 8 (1870) [5:41]
Dialogue in B major, No. 8 from 18 Pieces, Op. 72 (1893) [3:51]
Berceuse, Op. 72, No. 2 in A flat major (1893) [6:03]
Tendres reproches, Op. 72, No. 3 in C sharp minor (1893) [2:48]
Méditation Op. 72 No. 5 in D major (1893) [4:50]
Chant élégiaque, Op. 72, No.14 in D flat major (1893) [7:05]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. June 2011, Fisher Performing Arts Center at Bard College, New York. DDD
NIMBUS NI6162 [68:10]
Was Vladimir Feltsman’s portrait on the disk cover deliberately chosen to resemble Tchaikovsky? I can’t be sure, but from what I hear on this recording, the pianist certainly loves and understands this composer’s music. It seems that Feltsman is well attuned to Russian late-Romantic music, judging by the accolades he received for his album A Tribute to Rachmaninov.
The solo piano output of Tchaikovsky is virtually unknown to the public, with the possible exceptions of Album for children and The Seasons. If you know the latter set, you will recognize many of its features and techniques here: Tchaikovsky’s piano writing was not especially diverse. Also, the composer was not a great pianist himself, so his music can sometimes be uncomfortable to play, which can be one reason why it is not programmed more frequently in recitals. But from the musical point of view, these are little gems. Tchaikovsky’s lyrical genius shone in small pieces as brightly as it did in the large-scale compositions.
True, much of the content can be called “salon music”. In Tchaikovsky’s times, the times of grand Wagnerian passions, these little sentiments of “ordinary people” were often sneered at. But these sentiments are very real and humane. On this disc you’ll find misty-eyed romances and wistful waltzes, sweet reveries and quiet conversations. Some of these pieces, like Rêverie interrompue or Dialogue, are small scenes with developing action. Others, like Nocturne, are musical moments in the Schubert sense: snapshots of emotional states. Méditation is a song without words, with a heated Romantic climax. Theme and Variations from Op.19 bears a resemblance to Schumann’s Carnaval: it is a sequence of characteristic scenes. Valse sentimentale is included with its unforgettable autumnal melody. It’s not all spineless melancholy: vivacious pieces Opp.8 and 19 are strategically placed to enliven the program.
Vladimir Feltsman plays with natural feeling and presents the music without sugar icing. His interpretation radiates purity. He does not squeeze emotion out of this music, but really digs to its heart. In his hands it becomes by turns tender and muscular, joyous and melancholic. Tchaikovsky is all about emotion but there are two ways to communicate the emotion to the listener. One is external, when the music is shouting: “Yes, here, I’m sad, see how sad I am!” The second way is to draw the emotion from the listener’s soul, by putting the listener into resonance with the music. This way is more challenging for both parties, but eventually more rewarding, and that’s the way chosen by Feltsman here.
The piano sound is not very special: it’s typical Steinway and can be a little watery here, a little hollow there. But Feltsman’s mastery of touch only rarely lets the listener notice it. The recording quality is very good. The liner-note was written by the pianist and provides a fine musical analysis of each piece, together with interesting insights and historical context.
Little gems, performed with love and understanding.