Archive for February, 2013

Tchaikovsky, Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893

Piano Trio in a minor, Op. 50, 1882

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,The music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ranks among the most popular and beloved in the classical tradition. Known primarily for his orchestral and ballet music (as well as two favorite operas), he possessed a brilliant gift for winning lyricism, passionate expressivity, brilliant color and a blend of classic European sensibility with an unmistakable Russian character. Hardly a formalist, Tchaikovsky’s music seems to flow from instinct and inspiration that follows its own natural shape without worrying about precise classical schematics. All these traits characterize his small but quite worthy oeuvre for chamber music comprising three string quartets, a string sextet (Souvenir de Florence) and the epic Piano Trio in A minor. A truly one-of-a-kind work, the piano trio occupies its own unique niche apart from the standard repertoire of 19th century European trios. With its thick, rich textures, wonderful melodies, effulgent emotionality and novel form, it is perfectly characteristic of the composer, exactly what we would want Tchaikovsky to compose.

Brahms, String Quintet No.2 in G major, Op. 111

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

String Quintet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, 1890

Johannes BrahmsIn the summer of 1890, Brahms planned to retire from his composing career, intending his String Quintet, Op. 111 in G major to be his swan song. When he signed off on the final publisher’s proof of his second viola quintet, Brahms added a note stating, “With this letter you can bid farewell to my music, because it is certainly time to leave off . . .” As with many of his compositions, the piece was originally conceived for a different ensemble, in this case as sketches for a fifth symphony. And though it ended as a string quintet with two violas, a grand symphonic sonority still graces the outer movements. It is an extraordinary work, one of the finest in Brahms’s oeuvre and therefore all of chamber music: exuberant, elegant, subtle, original and unmistakably Brahms in nearly every bar. It makes advances on the first viola quintet written eight years earlier and would have made a perfect final composition for Brahms had it ultimately turned out that way. (more…)

Britten, Three Divertimenti for String Quartet

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976

Three Divertimenti for String Quartet, 1933, rev. 1936

Benjamin BrittenBenjamin Britten has come to be regarded as one of the great 20th composers and certainly among the greatest British composers of all time. His musical talent became evident early with a penchant for composing that resulted is over 100 numbered compositions before the age of eighteen. Britten’s mature fame rests primarily on his vocal and stage works: art songs, choral compositions, highly praised operas and the monumental war requiem. But Britten was a skillful instrumental composer as well producing a compelling variety of chamber music from his youth to his final years. Particularly prized are his string quartets, a Phantasy for oboe and string trio, a cello sonata and his three remarkable suites for solo cello dedicated to Rostropovich. His mature string quartet cycle comprises three numbered quartets and the Three Divertimenti for String Quartet written in 1933 when Britten was in his early twenties but subsequently revised quite extensively a few years later in 1936. (more…)

Brahms, String Quintet No. 1 in F major, Op. 88

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

String Quintet No. 1 in F major, Op. 88, 1882

Johannes BrahmsUnlike most of his contemporaries in the Romantic era preoccupied with tone poems, opera, poetic character miniatures and other forms of program music, Brahms wrote a generous corpus of absolute chamber music works in the “vintage” classical style. A collection of 26 mature works includes duo sonatas, piano trios, string and piano quartets, piano and string quintets, two sextets and the four final works featuring the clarinet. All 26 works are considered masterworks firmly established in the modern performance repertoire. While this might at first seem rather extraordinary, it is worth remembering that Brahms was a fierce self-critic and quite calculating in terms of what and when he published. It is generally thought that he destroyed more chamber music than he ultimately published and so this is a finely groomed collection that Brahms left for posterity. While all of his works are indeed beloved and deservedly so, his two string quintets enjoy a special regard. (more…)