Gerstein brings fire and poetry to a Tchaikovsky warhorse in fresh armor

Sat Aug 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm

By Tyler Krause

Kirill Gerstein performed the original version of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 Friday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo: Norman Timonera
Kirill Gerstein performed the original version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Friday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo: Norman Timonera

As patrons congregated at Millennium Park Friday evening for the Grant Park Music Festival it was clear Mother Nature had a different agenda. Torrential rains, later punctuated with lightening, plagued the lakefront, forcing the festival to curtail the all-Tchaikovsky concert at intermission. (The Suite No. 3 was the victim of the shortened program.)

Luckily the evening’s highlight, which took place during the first half at the Pritzker Pavilion, went uninterrupted.

Marche Slave was completed for a charity concert in aid for Serbia during the Serbo-Turkish War in 1876. Tchaikovsky integrated Serbian folk songs into this short orchestral tone poem, in addition to a more familiar theme from the Russian National Anthem.

Under the baton of Carlos Kalmar, the Grant Park musicians delivered a mixed reading. While the solemn heartfelt opening was well rendered, the brassy statement heralding the second theme lacked verve and the imbalance between sections during the finale left one feeling all the pomp with little circumstance.

The familiar Piano Concerto No. 1 was presented Friday in an unfamiliar version.

Tchaikovsky’s concerto underwent numerous changes leading to various versions. The final revised edition–posthumously published in 1894–is the popular version beloved by audiences. Yet that published score contains several emendations by other hands than the composer.

The 1879 original version, released last year by the Tchaikovsky Museum and Archives in Russia, has some notable difference from the later score. The opening, for example, has arpeggiated fragments in lieu of the magisterial block chords. The middle section of the last movement features an expanded trio, lengthening the work by a minute. In addition, there are various tweaks to dynamic markings throughout the piece.

Kirill Gerstein, who played the 1879 version last week at the BBC Proms, took the Pritzker Pavilion stage in a performance delivered with imagination and impassioned advocacy.

From the opening bars, Gerstein’s delicate arpeggios brought a poetic sense to the introduction. With the strings carrying the melody, the subtle accompaniment was a vehicle to augment the piece rather than to snag the spotlight. During the first movement’s cadenza Gerstein’s phrasing was calculated and the volatile coda elevated to a boiling point.

Kalmar was in complete synergy with the soloist, especially during the second movement’s elegiac Andantino. Taking the shape of a lyrical intermezzo it had a wonderful lilting quality and the technical demands of the subsequent Scherzo were managed to perfection. In the final movement’s coda, Gerstein’s delicate dynamics took precedence; each similar phrase colored differently, highlighting the complex texture.

With the soaring octaves of the finale capping off the evening, the audience was sent into the stormy night with a new appreciation of one of the most popular concerti in the repertory.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Gerstein brings fire and poetry to a Tchaikovsky warhorse in fresh armor”

  1. Posted Aug 15, 2016 at 8:32 pm by Mike Miller

    This March Slav was the best live performance I’ve ever heard of this ever popular warhorse.

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