Recorded on 01/01/1994, uploaded on 05/21/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
In the spring of 1868, the Russian pianist and conductor Anton Rubinstein expressed a desire to stage a concert in Paris and asked Saint-Saëns to make arrangements. Knowing that he would be unable to secure a concert date for at least three weeks, Saint-Saëns proposed to write a new piece for the occasion. The result was the Second Piano Concerto, composed in a furious rush over the course of those mere weeks leading up to the concert. The triumph of Saint-Saëns effort and product was, however, offset by a lackluster premiere. The composer himself appeared as soloist with Rubinstein conducting the orchestra, but the limited time prior to the concert resulted in poor preparation. The Parisian audience, who by this time could rival the Viennese in terms of vanity and superficiality, were more or less unreceptive of the work. The Polish composer and pianist Zygmunt Stojowski, deriding the work’s stylistic changes, quipped that it “begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.” Nevertheless, the Second Piano Concerto eventually won the hearts of the French capital’s concert-goers and has become Saint-Saëns’s most popular essay in the genre.
Though adhering to the Classical three movement structure of the concerto, Saint-Saëns breaks with it somewhat in placing the slowest movement first, creating an added sense of gravitas to the work’s opening sonata movement. An orchestral introduction is also abandoned in favor a fantasia-like passage for the piano alone which summons the spirit of Bach and led to the first part of Stojowski’s jest. Following this toccata introduction, the movement’s first theme appears—a melancholy tune in G minor which Saint-Saëns actually borrowed from an abandoned Tantum ergo setting by his student Gabriel Fauré. Offsetting the darkly hued first theme is a dolce second subject in the relative major which sings with a delicate gracefulness.
Following the first movement is a playful Allegro scherzando, opening with the sound of pizzicato strings and timpani which quickly gives way to a sprightly theme in E-flat major. In complete contrast to the weighty discourse of the first movement, Saint-Saëns’s wit is here on display and the music looks forward nearly two decades to his jocular and lighthearted Carnival of the Animals.
Providing the fodder for the latter half of Stojowski’s remark, the concerto’s finale is an energetic tarantella which calls to mind the last movement of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. Another sonata form, and back in the tonic key of G minor, soloist and orchestra both rush through a torrent of notes broken only partially by the momentary solemnity of a chorale-like theme announced in the orchestra. Yet, the restless energy of the movement is unabated and drives the piece to its feverish conclusion of sweeping G minor arpeggios. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of The International Festival-Institute at Round Top
Located in historic Round Top, Texas, The James Dick Foundation for the Performing Arts and its sole project, The International Festival-Institute at Round Top, were founded in 1971 by world-renowned concert pianist James Dick. Begun with a handful of gifted young pianists in rented space on the town square, the project is now an internationally acclaimed European-styled music institute for aspiring young musicians and distinguished faculty. Over a thirty eight year period and with the help of its patrons and friends, The James Dick Foundation for the Performing Arts has developed superb year round education and performance programs.
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