Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

I spent last weekend in the orchestra pit playing Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty for Richmond Ballet. Even as I’ve moved on to new programs this week, fragments of Tchaikovsky’s haunting score have continued to play in my mind, inspiring me to investigate a few recordings, old and new. Premiered in January, 1890 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty is often overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s two other ballet scores, Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1892). This is a shame, because it …

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Tchaikovsky, From Elation to Despair

Over the weekend, I found myself returning to Friday’s post to listen to Ja vas lyublyu, the famous aria from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades. It occurred to me that the aria’s progression from soaring passion to gloomy despair is echoed throughout many of Tchaikovsky’s works. In many cases, this dichotomy of elation and despair relates to a reoccurring theme of doomed love. Besides The Queen of Spades, a dark, haunting tragedy based loosely on …

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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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Aida Garifullina: Maria’s Lullaby from Tchaikovsky’s “Mazeppa”

Over the past few weeks, we have explored a few of the albums honored with a 2017 ECHO Klassik- Germany’s prestigious annual classical music awards. Today, we’ll turn our attention to the debut album of Russian operatic soprano Aida Garifullina. The recording, simply titled Aida Garifullina, won in the category of “Solo Recording/Voice (Arias/Recitals).” It’s a compilation of arias and songs by composers including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Garifullina is accompanied by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and conductor Cornelius …

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“Francesca da Rimini”: Tchaikovsky’s Turbulent, Dante-Inspired Tone Poem

Francesca da Rimini, Tchaikovsky’s turbulent orchestral tone poem, begins at the entrance of Hell. Following a ferocious flash in the low strings and the haunting overtones of the tamtam, a grim, quietly grating brass statement almost seems to intone the ominous words from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” In these opening bars, which Tchaikovsky marks, Andante lugubre, there are subtle, fleeting hints of the tritone, historically nicknamed the “Devil’s interval” because of its dissonance. …

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Tchaikovsky’s Fateful Fourth Symphony

It begins with one of the most powerful, bold, and memorable statements in all of symphonic music. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor opens with a blazing fanfare, first heard as a piercingly metallic proclamation in the horns and then augmented by trombones and soaring trumpets. Regarding this opening, Tchaikovsky wrote, The introduction is the seed of the whole Symphony: This is fate: that fateful force which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal, which …

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The Hollywood String Quartet: Five Classic Recordings

The Hollywood String Quartet, formed in 1939 and active until 1961, is regarded as the first American-born chamber music group to rise to international prominence. Their fame was due, in large part, to their numerous and exceptional recordings. The members were all studio musicians who created the lush, glowing soundtracks of Hollywood’s “golden age.” First violinist Felix Slatkin, concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, and his wife Eleanor Aller, principal cellist …

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