TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 2 Little Russian. Russian National Orchestra / Mikhail Pletnev. Pentatone SACD

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Tchaikovsky Symphony No 2 Little Orchestra Mikhail Pletnev Pentatone Sacd

  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No 2 Little Orchestra Mikhail Pletnev Pentatone Sacd
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No 2 Little Orchestra Mikhail Pletnev Pentatone Sacd

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor Op. 17(1872, revised 1879/80) "Little Russian"

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Original First Movement) 1872

Russian National Orchestra / Mikhail Pletnev

Concertmaster: Alexei Bruni

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor Op. 17 (1872, revised 1879/80) “Little Russian”

1 Andante sostenuto-Allegro vivo 10. 56

2 Andantino marziale, quasi moderato 6. 20

3 Scherzo – Allegro molto vivace 5. 12

4 Finale – Moderato assai-Allegro vivo 9. 19

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Original First Movement) 1872

5 Andante sostenuto-Allegro commodo 16. 04

Total playing time: 48. 12

A Little Russian wolf in symphonic sheep's clothing

Following the long and rocky road to the First Symphony, on which, due to his teaching duties at the Moscow Conservatory, Tchaikovsky had been forced to work at night, the Second Symphony was composed mainly in the summer of 1872, hot on the heels of his second opera, The Oprichnik. At this time, Tchaikovsky was once again taking a holiday on the country estate of his sister Aleksandra, located near the Ukrainian town of Kamianka, in the Kiev Governerate. Numerous anecdotes report Tchaikovsky's touching assertion that he was not the true creator of the work, but rather, that it actually had been composed by one Pyotr Gerasimovich, one of the older servants in the household of his sister and her husband, Lev Davydov, for it was Pyotr Gerasimovich who had sung the folksong, The Crane, to him, which provided the basis for the work's finale. Regardless of the story's veracity, there is no other work in Tchaikovsky's symphonic oeuvre that contains such a wealth of authentic folksong themes beside freely composed folksong-like creations. The work's unofficial title, Little Russian Symphony, is indeed attributable to the fact that so many Ukrainian folksongs are employed in it, 'Little Russia' having been the standard term for the central and northern portions of today's Ukraine in Tsarist times.

In contrast to his relationship with the First Symphony, Tchaikovsky was to all appearances initially extremely enthusiastic about his new score, writing, "By virtue of its fully developed form, I find this inspired work to be the best of all my compositions." Nevertheless, doubts about it soon arose in his mind, which could not be changed even by the great and lasting success which resulted from the work's premier in Moscow on the 26th of January 1873. Seven years later, Tchaikovsky undertook a full revision of the symphony whilst on holiday in Rome, noting at the time: "My God, what a difficult, noisy, incoherent piece!" The first movement was subjected to a comprehensive rewrite and even given a new set of themes (in the present recording, both versions of the movement can be heard); the scherzo was re-orchestrated and the finale drastically shortened. Only after completion of the work's new version, was its composer satisfied with the symphony: "With my hand on my heart, I can now say that this is a well-made symphony." Importantly, the Small Russian was not only a success with the public, but also very well-received by the members of the anti-academic group of composers around Mily Balakirev, 'The Five,' the self-proclaimed 'Novators' who championed a genuine Russian music, free of all western theoretical and academic influences. And Balakirev and Co. not only welcomed the work's authentic folksongs but also viewed the Second's emphasis on variation techniques, as opposed to the principle of development typical of strict western symphonic writing, in a very positive light. However, for all of its authentic folk elements, and the resulting degree of looseness it clearly displays, the Second Symphony nevertheless functions in complete accordance with traditional artistic principles, and one could even call it a Little Russian wolf in symphonic sheep's clothing. The first movement, for example, is in sonata form; the Andantino marziale exhibits a tripartite song form; the scherzo is, in perfect formal correctness, accompanied by a trio; and the finale combines sonata form with an overlay of variation technique. Reference is repeatedly made in the literature to the work's close relationship to a model from the repertoire of high classicism: Beethoven's Eroica, and, in their compositional parameters, Movements 2 through 4 in particular do indeed display a strong connection to the Beethovenian model.

Rather than the usual two themes, for this symphony's initial movement, Tchaikovsky employs three, each individually receiving full compositional treatment. The Allegro vivo is preceded by an extended Andante sostenuto introduction, in which the first horn intones the folksong, Down by Mother Volga. From this elegiac start, the rhythmically taught first theme, played by the strings in the major mode, leads into the Allegro vivo. The Volga theme reappears episodically in the development, and following a fully orthodox recapitulation, the coda returns the discourse to the elegiac horn song of the movement's beginning. The march used for the three-part Andantino marziale was originally composed by Tchaikovsky as a wedding march for the opera, Undine, whose score he destroyed following its rejection in 1873. In the middle section, the folksong Spin, my spinner is heard. The connection with Beethoven's Third? – according to Csampai, it lies in the "impression in the mind's eye of the listener of a mass of people marching past him." In the scherzo movement, whose bucolic trio in 2/8-metre is based on a Ukrainian folk-melody, the listener's attention is particularly drawn, on the one hand, to the movement's harmonic progressions, and on the other, to its constant mechanistic propulsion in quavers, reminiscent of those in Beethoven's scherzo. The great finale, as well, with its succession variations on the folksong, The Crane, 'packaged' within the structure of sonata form, is clearly reminiscent of the Eroica. Initially, the theme is intoned in its pure form, in the style of a mighty chorale. There follow chains of variations on a wild dance motif, with a whole-tone scale in the bass as fundament. Abrupt modulations – with mediant progressions far ahead of their time – envelop the stamping dance motif, that constantly undergoes subtle variation, despite three interruptions by a lyrical theme. As the coda, announced by a cymbal clash, rushes bombastically onward, the dance motif is led to its triumphant final apotheosis.

Pentatone SACD PTC5186382

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