YR3 Week2: Chopin - Piano Concerto #2; Lang Lang

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(program)

RCA Stereo Recording // Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) // Piano Concerto No.2 in E Minor 

Symphony of the Air, conducted by Alfred Wallenstein. Soloist: Arthur Rubinstein

Piano Concerto No.2 in E Minor 

  • Maestoso 

  • Larghetto 

  • Allegro vivace 

[Chopin’s] style of writing for the piano created a marvellous synthesis of contemporary and classical influences, at the same time drawing on specifically Polish traditions - the polonaises, mazurkas, and other dances that add spice to so much of his music. The contemporary influences included the brilliant piano style of Hummel, the nocturnes of John Field (a pioneer of the genre), and the decorative lyricism of Italian opera composers such as Bellini. “” robert phillip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music


it’s been one of those absolutely brilliant absolutely messy weeks, much of which was spent weed-whacking through the onslaught of interest in my attempt to find a subletter for my apartment——everything you’ve heard about rent in toronto is, unfortunately, true. it’s also been a great week on here with ongoing coverage of the dance: made in canada festival. as one should expect of this time of year when the free-wheeling-ness of summer begins to dovetail into Labour day and soon thereafter is that first cool breeze of  mid-september evening and before you blink twice you’re wearing a parka and omitting the ‘ice’ from your coffee orders. but till then there’s still too much to do, things of the summer variety for which purpose the accompanying music should be an invigorating concoction of languorous simplicity and vibrant tranquility——ergo chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2. which was in fact composed before his first concerto but was published three years after it. it is in that purview that the Concerto #2 seems to tease the prominent theme of the #1, both of which share almost identical opening phrases; have the same Maestoso-Larghetto-Allegro structure; and are also characterized by ‘answering’ phrases elaborated by delicately twinkling figurations. 

The melancholy first theme in F minor curls round and then descends gently. It begins unaccompanied, on first violins, and is them joined by second violins and violas, which also descend, but at a different rate, creating a counterpoint of poignant harmonies. “” robert phillip on the Maestoso, The Classical Music Lover’s Guide to Orchestral Music

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the concerto opens Maestoso (majestic, grand) with the movement’s main theme bowed vigorously by first violins; and as if hesitantly interrupting a conversation, the soloist enters into the fray with a sparkling recitation of that main theme before introducing a new more sombre theme; a bit of this and that and the action returns into a minor key for a fresh round of developments. on bassoon——the prominent wind instrument of choice throughout this concerto——the first theme played by the soloist is reimagined in a new phrase and is answered in turn by the main theme on piano. some heavy bumbling tune is sung out merrilly in an orchestral tutti (all together), the tutti reprises the main theme again before the soloist chirps in with the first and second theme in succession and the whole locomotive arrives at a momentary hush. 

the middle Larghetto (slightly faster than Largo), too, is introduced by orchestra and flagshipped by a two-part theme, the first half of which is grand and ornamental and followed by a more elemental yet silken and lyrical phrase.

The second half [of the two-part theme] has a simple dignity. The whole effect is like an operatic soliloquy - the heroine torn between love and duty, perhaps. This is just the sort of quasi-operatic style that Chopin was to develop in his Nocturnes. “” robert phillip on the Larghetto, The Classical Music Lover’s Guide to Orchestral Music

a bit of boom and bang before a prolonged tremolo (quivering effect) on strings leads into a piano recitative. the soloist settles down with a reprisal of that two-part theme and——like a dodgy snake——the bassoon makes another brief cameo with a sibilant yet sonorous tune. the movement is wrapped up with a recall of the opening bars and arpeggios on the solo instrument for good measure. 

it’s the solo instrument that unexpectedly begins the brief charge of the Allegro vivace (your heartbeat when you try and reflex-catch your falling iphone), which is immediately bolstered by muscular cello and viola sections. 

The first theme [of the Allegro vivace] is like a waltz in F minor. It begins rather seriously, contained within rising and falling scales, but then opens out, ending with a playfully syncopated flourish. The orchestra takes this as a cue to subvert the waltz with cross-rhythms. The piano finishes off the theme with yet more playful figurations, and the orchestra rounds it off with a brief tutti. “” robert phillip on the Allegro vivace, The Classical Music Lover’s Guide to Orchestral Music

the middle section of the movement features triplet patterns in A flat major; various wind instruments take the spotlight including a new theme whistled by principal flute; the action swings back to the soloist as a mazurka is played over col legno violins (beating the strings with the stick--rather than the hair--of the bow). bassoon cameo! then the dual action on piano of triplets in treble (right hand) and the theme of the aforementioned mazurka in bass (left hand). clarinet duet! the soloist plays a waltz that turns into a mazurka and back into a waltz and is blasted with another orchestral tutti:

The piano sets off on a gallop of unstoppable triplet figurations, full of wit and bravura. Towards the end, it pauses for a wistful reminiscence of the mazurka, before bringing the concerto to an end with one last cascade and rocket. “”robert phillip on the Allegro vivace, The Classical Music Lover’s Guide to Orchestral Music


(new download: Un Sospiro, performed by Lang Lang) 

‘Un sospiro’, italian for ‘a sigh’, was the third of the Three Concert Études composed by franz liszt between 1845 and 1849. there’s nothing quite like it, even the most relaxed  interpretation still must account for the urgencies that at times grips the performer like a frightful dream; and a particularly energetic performance---like lang lang’s all-too aggressive interpretation above---will eventually come back to the spirit of the title and perhaps wallow in the ambiguity of the sigh:is it a sigh of compassion? frustration? fatigue? satisfaction? gratitude? longingness? a lethargic and somnolent surrender embalmed in liquid peace?---yes. since discovering lang lang’s interpretation in his album ‘Liszt, My Piano Hero’; a cover by Pacific Harp Project; and charles richard-hamelin’s performance of it at the Toronto Summer Music festival, it’s turning out to be the song of my summer.