Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No 2 in G major, Op 44
Denis Matsuev, piano
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra
New York, January 2015
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44, was written in 1879–1880. It was dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, who had insisted he be allowed to perform it at the premiere as a way of making up for his harsh criticism of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Rubinstein was never destined to play it, however, as he died in March 1881. The premiere performance took place in New York, on 12 November 1881. The soloist was Madeline Schiller, and Theodore Thomas conducted the New York Philharmonic orchestra. The first Russian performance was in Moscow in May 1882, conducted by Anton Rubinstein with Tchaikovsky's pupil, Sergei Taneyev, at the piano.
The piano concerto consists of three movements:
Allegro brillante e molto vivace
Andante non troppo (in D major)
Allegro con fuoco
The second movement contains prominent solos for the violin and cello, making the work in effect a concerto for piano trio and orchestra briefly, though a once-popular edition by Alexander Siloti removed large sections of the work, including those solos. Siloti initially proposed a number of changes to the score, but Tchaikovsky resisted these ideas. As time progressed, however, he did agree to certain changes. However, the version that Siloti published in 1897, four years after Tchaikovsky's death, included cuts and transpositions with which Tchaikovsky had strongly disagreed. Nevertheless, the Siloti version became the standard version for many years.
Also noteworthy is the degree of segregation of orchestra and soloist, especially in the opening movement. Tchaikovsky had told his close friend Hermann Laroche many years earlier that he would never write a piano concerto because he could not tolerate the sound of piano and orchestra playing together. Though he handled this well enough in the First Piano Concerto, he would increasingly intersperse cadenza-like passages for the soloist in the movements of his later works for piano and orchestra. For listeners trying to orient themselves through this concerto, those passages, with their abrupt switch between piano and supporting instruments, make it easier.[