Tchaikovsky: 12 Morceaux

reviwe tchaikovsky x1 cong

We always like programmes like this: though it’s Tchaikovsky it’s (i) not too highbrow and (ii) was written for commercial reasons; these two factors make a review easier.

Tchaikovsky wrote music for the piano throughout much of his life, mostly as pieces aimed at the amateur — back in those days, composers earned money selling sheet music, and if you want mass market appeal it can’t be too difficult. The scores presumably had to be hard enough to impress an audience but not so hard the performer gave up, and melodic enough to engage the listener. The full title of this is “Twelve pieces of moderate difficulty”.

The opening Etude is fast and would seem to be the hardest piece, followed by Chanson Triste and a Funeral March. The fourth and fifth pieces are Mazurkas. Among the other pieces are a couple of waltzes, followed by Danse Russe (that found a place in the ballet Swan Lake, say the sleeve notes). The final piece introduces a Venetian folksong.

Notwithstanding the sombre moments, the opening pieces are all a little dainty, presumably reflecting the fact that an amateur would be playing in a small venue, from a front room to maybe a small concert in town. The rest of the programme matches this mood.

Souvenir de Hapsal, Op.2 was written at Hapsal, where Tchaikovsky became involved with Vera Davidova, his sister-in-law; an unwilling paramour writing piano pieces for his would-be suitor would not have calmed matters, we fear.

Valse-scherzo, Op.7 was dedicated to his sister, Sasha Davidova, though it followed a time when he’d fallen in love with Désirée Artôt. She married another soloist, perhaps because during the course of the relationship with Tchaikovsky, Ms Davidova reappeared.

The Capriccio in G flat, Op eight was possibly on safer ground (though Tchaikovsky was rumoured to be gay), dedicated to German pianist Karl Klindworth, while Valse-caprice, Op.4 was dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s Conservatory colleague, pianist Anton Door.

All in all, a fine but rather subdued collection, pianist Mami Shikimori making the pieces sound at their best; she’s far from amateur.

Out on Naxos 8.573543

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