Why Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2?

Why Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2? As a rather inexperienced piano student in New York more than two decades ago, I had never really listened to it properly until I came across a recording of the Second and Third Piano Concertos by my teacher, Jerome Lowenthal, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sergiu Comissiona. While the Second does not possess the immediate appeal of the immensely popular First Piano Concerto, it does offer something special in its own way. 

Tchaikovsky was generally not inspired by the combined sound of piano and strings, so the first movement features large sections in which piano and orchestra are segregated. I personally feel that this imbues an operatic atmosphere to the proceedings. Dramatic outbursts from the orchestra lead to duets between higher and lower instruments, simulating perhaps feminine and masculine voices, while the piano goes through lengthy cadenzas or “recitatives” to further heighten the drama. In fact, in order to better understand the dramatic scope, Tchaikovsky’s own annotations in the manuscript show dynamics ranging from 12 p’s to 9 f’s in the cadenza, and remarks like “With mad speed and insane strength”!

The beautifully heartfelt second movement is unique for a piano concerto, in that the piano shares the limelight with solo violin and solo cello.  It also gives me pleasure to share the stage with violinist Askar Salimdjanov, particularly because he is graduating from the Conservatory, and cellist Jamshid Saydikarimov.

In August 2017, I recorded a solo disc that is soon to be released by Centaur Records entitled “Grand Russian”, which pairs the Tchaikovsky Grand Sonata in G Major, Op. 37 and the Rachmaninov First Sonata in D minor, Op. 28.  There are several parallels between the Grand Sonata and the Second Concerto, apart from the obvious similarity in key.  Both opening movements share the same architectural grandeur, while the last movements are frivolously fun.

On a personal note, I would like to dedicate tonight’s performance to a friend who passed away quite suddenly last year.  During the brief time that I knew him, German pianist Andreas Henkel had a compassionate soul and was an advocate for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2.  Whenever he proposed it to a conductor or orchestra, their response would invariably be “Why not No.1?”, and his retort was always “Why not No.2?”

 - Albert Tiu