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A Mythical Miracle on Utube: Tchaikovsky Concert

This e-concert is amazing. There are three different orchestras playing some of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s best pieces:

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  • The Tchaikovsky concert program began with the 1812 Overture with full cannon and bells as done to celebrate the 150th birthday of the composer in a gala with Yuri Temirkanov conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic and the Leningrad Military orchestras together.
  • This was followed by Martha Argerich playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Genève)
  • After the intermission, the programs ends with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 in F minor conducted by Barenboim for the opening concert of Carnegie Hall’s 1997 season.

The Russian composer is one of the most popular of all time and he left a legacy of the most complex and beautiful music for many different instruments, though his piano concertos, symphonies and ballets are the most famous. His understanding of harmony and full use of all the instruments enriches the sound of anything he composed and his famous beginning have made him one of the most recognizable composers of all time.

I have never valued Utube so much as now, and I will have to purchase the VDV recordings of these concerts, especially the Concerto #1, as it was nothing short of a miracle of sound, which actually brought tears to my eyes, since I was blessed to have a really great noise-cancelling Bose headset and a clear Internet signal. There is no other way I could have enjoyed such a wonderful concert. In this case, the recording is every bit as wonderful as a live performance, and the Concerto is better than live, unless one becomes a great concert pianist and can create such an experience.

The 1812 Overture, which tells the story of the defeat of the invading Napoleonic army is possibly the best piece the composer ever wrote. It is not long, but it includes shorter version of typically longer symphonic works ending in a marvelous cacophony of church bells, real cannon and full orchestra. This version is done without chorus, as originally written, and the performance is rich and expressive.

Of course the defeat of the Napoleonic forces was not done in a day, since the invaders were more or less starved out until they were trapped by winter and died. However, if one can suspend the notion of time then it is easy to imagine a beginning spring sunrise followed by the invading scouts, a summery interlude followed by attacks in earnest with notes from the beginning of the Marshallese and marching drums. The piece is a wonderful conversation between the brass, strings and woodwinds telling of battles, the burning of all the fields, the coming of winter and finally once again spring and final victory.

The Piano Concerto #1 was the highlight of this program. Martha Argerich’s lovely hands simply fly across the keyboard and the accompaniment of the orchestra is masterfully guided by Charles Dutoit. The famous beginning notes on full brass with the final accent on strings sent chills up my spine. The woodwinds were superb, especially the solos on oboe and bassoon, while the gentleman on the kettle drum is a master of nuance, touching the surface of the drums ever so lightly yet providing a resonant echo.

The most marvelous thing about this recording is that the listener/ viewer is literally sitting at the piano, much of the time seeing someone else’s hands playing with un paralleled beauty and grace, yet all the power of any male pianist. The pizzicato sections were so well played that they sounded as if all the hands were joined by invisible wires and the bowed sections were unbelievably powerful and smooth.

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The last piece on the program is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 in F minor. Barenboim is exciting to watch. It is simply incredible that he does this entire symphony without a score in front of him, but watching him one realizes that the music is actually part of him, and he brings the orchestra along to share it with the audience. He actually breaks into a huge smile at one point, because the orchestra executed his ideas so well. The brass section in this concert creates a clear pure sound without a single flaw. The interplay between the oboe and bassoon in the second half of the first movement is so perfect that one imagines the players are singing with the voices of their instruments.

The second movement begins with a sad haunting solo on oboe punctuated by soft pizzicato strings which then take up the melody on bow. The movement ends on the same melody played masterfully on the bassoon and echoed by the string softly punctuated by French horns and returning to reprise the melody once more on bassoon and oboe..The third movement begins with a wonderfully complex pizzicato section on strings executed in so many different ways that I did not even know could be used, creating a sound of dancing fairies on the strings. In fact a lot of pizzicato strings are used in this movement, even ending it quite nicely. Then it flows into woodwinds, flutes and piccolos bright and lyrical like birdsong.

The last movement is rich with blending melodies on strings and horns almost having a conversation. It is fast and nimble, yet somehow almost royal in the richness of sound. In the last few minutes it slows as the brass take over and it becomes almost somber, then builds to a final fast repeat of the theme underscored by kettle drums building to a rapid climax with full orchestra. What made this symphony quite specials was the camera work giving the viewer a chance to see the instruments played live up close.

This concert, being made up of three different performances by some of the best orchestras in the world would have been impossible for the attendees at the original performances. However, this is one way in which technology has really enhanced the experience of art. I will ever be grateful to have been guided to these recordings, and I will look for more. Watching these is, in many ways, better than being there.

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