Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor, op. 23. – revised version

„You must weed out the banalities and make some of the unplayable passages playable” – this was the withering reaction of Nikolai Rubinstein to the score of the B flat minor concerto, after the composer showed it to him. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was deeply wounded by the opinion of his fellow musician and friend. However, he elected not to take his advice.

Kirill Gerstein and Zoltán Kocsis are going to present the second, Tchaikovsky’s own version by the latest research, Kirill Gerstein wrote about it.

“2015 is both the 140th anniversary of the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto (in Boston) and the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth. Because of my research for the article about Tchaikovsky’s note in the piano concerto (http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/gallery/2013/aug/13/tchaikovskys-wrong-note/), I have been in touch with the editor in Moscow in charge of preparing a new critical urtext edition of Tchaikovsky’s works. The first volume of the new edition is the 1st and 2nd version of the 1st piano concerto and will come out in the spring of 2014. The editor has promised to send me the score and parts even earlier and is happy help facilitate performances from the new edition.

It is well-known that the 1st version of Tchaikovsky’s 1st concerto was harshly criticised by Nicolai Rubinstein, but Tchaikovsky nevertheless published the piece unchanged. A few years after the 1st version, and after “road-testing” the piece on concert tours, Tchaikovsky made the 2nd version with some changes that make the piano and orchestra part better-sounding and more practical.

It is quite peculiar that the version we all know and play as the 1st piano concerto is a 3rd version. It was done by Alexander Siloti in 1888. Quite soon after Tchaikovsky’s death, the general public accepted this version as the one that the composer wanted. Siloti implied that the changes introduced in his version were either by Tchaikovsky, or made with his permission. The latest research shows that the changes are by Siloti, and not by Tchaikovsky. Even in his very last public performance in 1893 (that included the premiere of the Pathetique symphony), Tchaikovsky conducted his own 2nd version.

The 2nd version of the score contains many details that make the concerto a less bombastic and more musical piece. Siloti also made an unfortunate cut in the 3rd movement that makes the movement disproportionately short and takes out the main theme from the slower middle episode. All in all, the 2nd original version has differences that both amateurs and professionals will notice, however it is still very much Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto with all its popular appeal.
I thought this coincidence of dates, together with the appearance of an urtext of Tchaikovsky’s own version with editorial tampering removed, might be an interesting project involving a very popular piece wrapped in history and presentable in fresh light.”

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