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Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 – Tchaikovsky - PASC112

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Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 – Tchaikovsky - PASC112-CD
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Quick Overview

Noel Mewton-Wood
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Walter Goehr


Recorded in 1952, transferred from Concert Hall MMS-12
Restoration and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, May 2008
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Noel Mewton-Wood


Total duration: 32:57

Download ID: 459181/2/3/499980



For 24-BIT FLAC support see our Help pages


Source LP from the private collection of Philippe Bonin

Details

Notes on the recordings: When Philippe Bonin kindly sent me a set of LPs of recordings by the tragic Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, neither of us expected them to end up here. In his covering letter he stated that the discs were in very bad condition, with lots of clicks, crackle, rumble, hum and "other funny things". The piano tone was lacking weight, the orchestra was muddy and the records were said to be dirty.

Picking up on that final point, my first task was to give the discs and exceptionally thorough and deep clean. Judging by the colour of the muck that came off them, I was hopeful that many of the other reported problems would be cured. It's also very pertinent that I used a custom-ground stylus designed not only for the replay of the wider mono grooves of most 1950's LPs (stereo-grooved records require a narrower stylus), but also with a truncated tip, ground specially to avoid any contact with either the bottom of the groove or any microscopic muck still residing there.

The result of this cleaning was transformatory, and I was confident that this, couple with XR processing, could yeild excellent results. I was not disappointed. Despite questionable microphone technique, which favours the piano and appears to regard the orchestra as something of an afterthought, and some very mild tape 'flutter' dropout in one or two places, this recording has come up a treat, and allows the listener finally to really treasure the fine playing and technique of Mewton-Wood.

 

Philippe Bonin, who generously supplied the LPs for this and future Mewton-Wood transfers, sent this message upon hearing this restoration:

I have listened five times in loop your transfer. Extraordinary! The piano is so glorious (playing AND sound) that I was thinking it might even be as beautiful without the orchestra. I do not know if it is a Steinway or a Bösendorfer, but the sound is there, with the whole range of frequencies; astonishing. Even if the orchestra has rough moments, there are many wonderful ones (like the flute and the cello in the second movement, or the entry of the strings at 1:05 into the last movement). I have seen also that you have fixed the end of the same movement were there was a sudden burst of sound.

I hope you will do the same miracles with the other ones...

 

Notes on the Orchestra: The orchestra here didn't exist as a regular working body. In fact the original LP credits the similarly non-existant "Musical Masterworks Symphony Orchestra", the kind of name which immediately rings alarm bells as an obvious pseudonym. We've chosen to go with the Netherlands Philharmonic as this more accurately indicates the origins of the players, who were drawn from the three Dutch radio orchestras of the day, something since confirmed by various orchestral members.

The following notes were taken from Rolf den Otter's website notes [more here]:

After recording in Switzerland initially, the MMS label turned to the Netherlands for orchestral core repertoire. Several orchestras from the Dutch public radio were recorded under the pseudonym 'Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra'. Another Dutch orchestra that recorded frequently for MMS in the early '50s (under it's own name) was the Utrecht symphony orchestra, conducted by Paul Hupperts. To make things a bit complicated, the Utrecht symphony orchestra merged in the 1980's together with two other orchestras into the... Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra!! Often, these two orchestras, the MMS pseudonym and the present NphO. are mixed up with each other, but there is no connection!!

In 2001 the RFO historic society tried to find out which orchestra and which players contributed to the 'Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra' recordings. Unfortunately, this was virtually impossible. The problem was that the files of the Dutch radio from that time are destroyed, and the organization of these 'odd jobs' were in the hands of the musicians themselves, the so called "hustlers". These musicians kept no records of their side jobs....

Being radio orchestras, Dutch law prevented to record under their own names. The broadcast organizations were aware of the recording sessions, but turned a blind eye to the musicians. Some players remembered that members of the following orchestra's performed in the MMS recordings: 'het Omroep Orkest' (the present Radio Symphony orchestra), the Dutch Radio Philharmonic orchestra and the Radio Chamber orchestra. Not all members of the RFO and OO participated to the recordings, particularly the string players refused to play for the MMS label.

 

Notes on the 24-bit download: Please see this page for test files and further information regarding this format. Although restoration work is done at a sample rate of 44.1kHz, we have upsampled the final 24-bit master to 48kHz for additional replay compatibility of our FLAC download.

Our twenty-four bit FLAC downloads can be replayed in full quality using a standard DVD video player, a DVD writer and an inexpensive piece of PC software - see here for more information about replay from Video DVD discs.

 

 

Noel Mewton-Wood

biographical notes from Wikipedia, links to more information

 

Noel Mewton-Wood (November 20, 1922 – December 5, 1953) was an Australian-born concert pianist who achieved some fame during his short life.

Born in Melbourne, he studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium until the age of fourteen. After further studies at London's Royal Academy of Music, Mewton-Wood spent time with Artur Schnabel in Italy.

In March 1940 he returned to London for his debut performance at Queen's Hall, performing Beethoven's third piano concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. He later performed in France, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Turkey, and Australia.

At the age of thirty-one, Mewton-Wood committed suicide by drinking prussic acid, apparently blaming himself for the death of a friend. The notes written by a friend of Mewton-Wood, John Amis, for the reissue of the Bliss Concerto recording, indicate that Mewton-Wood was gay and was depressed by the recent death of his lover.

Mewton-Wood's The Times obituary of December 7, 1953 described his playing style at his debut performance:

At once his remarkable control and his musicianship were apparent: the ascending scales in octaves, with which the pianist first enters, thundered out with whirlwind power, but he could summon beautiful cantabile tone for the slow movement and the phrasing of the rondo theme was admirably neat for all the rapidity of the tempo; a true understanding of the relationship in concerto between soloist and orchestra, and of the soloist's part in ensemble, betokened the musician, the potential chamber performer.

In addition to Beethoven, Mewton-Wood's repertoire included:

  • Tchaikovsky's three piano concertos, G major sonata, and Concert Fantasy;
  • Busoni's Fantasia contrappuntistica and Piano Concerto;
  • Sir Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto (as Mewton-Wood was an exponent of this piece, Bliss wrote him a piano sonata);
  • Tippett's song cycle The Heart's Assurance;
  • Hindemith's Ludus tonalis;
  • and works by Britten, Schubert, Liszt, Mahler, Schumann, and Bartók.

He also composed chamber music, a piano concerto, ballet music, and music for the 1944 film Tawny Pippit.

 

Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noel_Mewton-Wood

See also notes on Mewton-Wood at:

 

 

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1

notes from Wikipedia

 

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Op. 23, was composed between November 1874 and February 1875 with piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubinstein in mind as soloist. It was revised in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888. It is considered perhaps the most popular of Tchaikovsky's works and among the best known of all piano concertos.

 

Instrumentation

The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in F, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), timpani, solo piano, and strings.

 

Structure

The concerto is famous for the dramatic tension between soloist and orchestra. It is markedly symphonic in character and differs considerably from the more musically conservative and outwardly virtuoso type of concerto that was then widely popular in Russia. Nonetheless, the technical demand placed upon the pianist remains considerable. For example, there are several passages with rapid octave movement. Speed and awkward note arrangement create further difficulties. As well, a performer must keep up with the overall monumental nature of the work with a very powerful tone that often dominates over the orchestra.

The concerto follows the traditional form of three movements:

  1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito (B flat minor)
  2. Andantino simplice – Prestissimo (D flat major)
  3. Allegro con fuoco (B flat minor → B flat major)

The well-known theme of the introductory section to the first movement is based on a melody that Tchaikovsky heard performed by blind beggar-musicians at a market in Kamenka, near Kiev in Ukraine. This, the best-known passage in the entire concerto, was notable for a considerable time after its composition on its apparent formal independence from the movement and the concerto as a whole. This sense if independence seemed to be highlighted by being not in the work's nominal key of B flat minor but in the relative major key of D-flat. Despite its very substantial nature, the theme is only heard twice, and never subsequently reappears in the concerto.

The key to the link between the introduction and the rest of the concerto is that the opening melody contains the core motivic elements for the entire work. This may not seem obvious because of Tchaikovsky's gift for hiding motivic connections behind what can appear to be a moment of melodic inspiration. A close analysis shows that all three movements are subtly linked. The middle section of the second movement is based on a French chansonette, "Il faut s'amuser, danser et rire." A Ukranian vsnyanka or greeting to spring is the first theme of the finale, while the second theme is motivically derived from the Russian folk song "Podoydi, podoydy vo Tsar-Gorod." All these melodies are connected by a strong motivic bond. The relationship between them has often been ascribed to chance because they were all well known at the time Tchaikovsky composed the concerto. It seems likely, though, that he used these songs precisely because of their motivic connection and used them where he felt necessary. Selecting folkloristic material, therefore, went hand in hand with planning the large-scale structure of the work.

 

History

Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to Nikolai Rubinstein, whom he also intended to be its first performer. However, when Tchaikovsky proudly showed the work to Rubinstein and another musical friend Nikolai Hubert at the Moscow Conservatory on Christmas Eve 1874, he was met with bitter disappointment. After they had given it a first play-through, Rubinstein hastily dismissed the concerto as "banal, clumsy and incompetently written", as well as "poorly composed and unplayable." He then asked Tchaikovsky to undertake a substantial reworking of it in accordance with his own wishes. The composer was deeply hurt, and refused to listen to Rubinstein's advice.

The first performance of the original version took place on October 25, 1875 in Boston, Massachusetts. The premiere was conducted by Benjamin Johnson Lang, with the solo piano part performed by Hans von Bülow, an admirer of Tchaikovsky's music. It was a resounding success, and Tchaikovsky later rededicated the work to von Bülow, who had described the work as "so original and noble" (although he later dropped the concerto from his repertoire).

The Russian premiere took place just one week later in Saint Petersburg, with the Russian pianist Gustav Kross and Czech conductor Eduard Nápravník. In Tchaikovsky's estimation, Kross reduced the work to "an atrocious cacophony".

The piano soloist in the Moscow premiere, on 3 December 1875, was Sergei Taneyev. Despite his strong reservations about the quality of the work, Nikolai Rubinstein conducted the orchestra, and later played the solo part several times. At that time, Tchaikovsky considered rededicating the work to Taneyev, who had performed it splendidly, but ultimately the dedication went to von Bülow.

 

Other

  • Also arranged for two pianos by Tchaikovsky, December 1874; revised December 1888.
  • Tchaikovsky revised it three times, the last being in 1888, which is the version usually now played. One of the most prominent differences between the original and final versions is that in the opening section, the octave chords played by the pianist, over which the orchestra plays the famous theme, were originally written as arpeggios.
  • Van Cliburn won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 with this piece, much to the astonishment of people worldwide, as he was an American competing in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
  • Vladimir Horowitz performed this piece as part of a World War II fund-raising concert in 1943, with his father-in-law, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Two separate performances of Horowitz playing the concerto and Toscanini conducting were eventually released on records and CD's - the live 1943 rendition, and an earlier studio recording made in 1941.
  • This piece was also further popularized among many Americans when it was used as the theme to Orson Welles' famous "Mercury Theatre" Radio Program. The Concerto came to be associated with Welles throughout his career and was often played when introducing him as a guest on both radio and television. The main theme was also made into a popular song entitled Tonight We Love, by bandleader Freddy Martin in 1941.

 

Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Concerto_No._1_(Tchaikovsky)

 

 

 

 

Find out more:

 

Second Movement - Andantino semplice

 

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PASC112 cover

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Cue sheet

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