Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto: An Intimate and Sublime Dialogue

Each of Beethoven’s five mature piano concertos take us to a distinct place. The Third is set in a turbulent C minor, with a backward glance to Mozart. The Fifth, known as the “Emperor,” springs to life with a sense of monumentality and exhilarating heroism. In between is the sometimes overlooked Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. Here, we enter a magical and quietly intimate world of shimmering colors. Musical lines …

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Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Finale: The Spell is Broken

Tchaikovsky’s 1876 ballet, Swan Lake, tells the fairy tale story of a young prince (Siegfried) who falls in love with a princess (Odette) who has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer, Rothbart. Through a spell cast by Rothbart, Odette is transformed into a white swan during the day, returning to human form only at night. Later, Rothbart lays a trap for Siegfried, deceiving him with a woman who looks like Odette, but who …

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Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony: The Unlikely Triumph of Freedom

In a public statement, Dmitri Shostakovich reportedly gave the Fifth Symphony the obsequious subtitle, “a Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism.” These are the words of a composer held hostage, both artistically and literally. The year was 1937, and the Fifth Symphony represented Shostakovich’s attempt to placate Stalin and his cultural censors. A year earlier, the composer’s racy and subversive opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was attacked as “muddle instead of music” …

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Remembering Alexander Buzlov

The internationally renowned Russian cellist, Alexander Buzlov, passed away yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 37. A 2006 graduate of the Moscow Conservatoire, Buzlov was a student of Natalia Gutman. He was awarded third prize at the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015. Here is Alexander Buzlov’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33. Eight adventurous variations grow out of an original theme that pays homage to the classical elegance of …

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“Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”: Excerpts from Shostakovich’s Censored Opera

Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1932 opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, inhabits a grim world of “lust, loneliness, and murder.” Described by the composer as a “Tragedy-Satire,” it hovers somewhere between chilling terror and “grotesque vaudeville.” The dark plot, based on a novel of the same name by Nikolai Leskov, is centered around Katerina Ismailova, a bored and oppressed merchant’s wife who lives in a provincial town. As John Henken writes in his summary, …

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1941 Recording: Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Toscha Seidel

In 1918, the 21-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold received a commission to write incidental music for a Vienna production of Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Wartime restrictions, along with the intimacy of the theater, with its small orchestra pit, necessitated that the work be scored for a chamber ensemble. As Brendan Carrol writes in a recent article, the project went through a series of incarnations. When the original theater company went bankrupt, the …

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Ives’ “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”: The Eternal River of Time

On a June weekend in 1908, Charles Ives and his wife, Harmony Twichell, vacationed in the rolling Berkshire Hills. A hiking trip led the newly married couple by the Housatonic River near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Ives recalled, We walked in the meadows along the river, and heard the distant singing from the church across the river. The mist had not entirely left the river bed, and the colors, the running water, the banks …

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