Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers. I especially like his symphonies, and his first piano concerto is equally a favorite, it is without a doubt a sublimely romantic composition. Therefore I was eminently pleased to experience this concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and pianist Sa Chen. The PSO has invited several new and upcoming soloists this year, and they have all given such wonderful performances.
Romance and Waltz – Doug Bauman
Sa Chen was simply amazing. She sat before the grand piano, her hands delicately arrayed upon the keyboard, with a glint of anticipation in her eyes. Soon conductor Manfred Honeck began with a sweeping arc of his arms and baton, and the orchestra commenced, bringing the first four descending notes from the English Horns, da dat dat da, leading into the a flourish of similar notes from the whole orchestra, and finally to the full hands and fingers of the pianist thundering their harmonic knell strokes upon the keys three times from the very lowest octaves, to the middle tones, and all the way to the right with the high notes, as the orchestra played one of the most recognizable of all romantic themes in unison.
Then it was time for Sa Chen to play a solo with the aid of some well placed pizzicato, and her fantastic abilities were immediately seen and heard. Throughout the performance she had an amazing capability to effortlessly play the keys, loud or softly as appropriate, and make it look so natural. My recommendation to anyone attending a piano concerto: sit left of center as I did, so that you may see the hands on the keyboard, and where I was I was able to see the reflection as well.
This piece is memorable not only for the momentous introduction to the first movement, and the romantic theme that is prevalent throughout, but for many unforgettable melodies that are fabulously interwoven throughout the whole of the concerto.
If I am not mistaken, and correct me if I am wrong, but many of the solo parts traditionally ascribed to the oboe were this evening marvelously played by a solo piccolo, to marvelous affect. This soloist wasn’t listed on the web page, but she did fantastic, I was impressed (there were actually two piccolo, the other being the principle, Rhian Kenny, who did a great job herself). In fact, Maestro Honeck singled out the piccolo player for applause at the conclusion, after the main applause went to Sa Chen, of course. Sa Chen then went on to play an encore, which was very beautiful. I did not hear the name of the composition; if anyone knows, please comment.
After intermission, the theme was Johann Strauss, Jr.: Music by the Strauss Family. Honeck structured the first part of the Strauss evening as a tribute to the women in Strauss family life, including Josef Strauss: Frauenherz (A Woman’s Heart) and Johann Strauss: Wein, Weib, und Gesang (Wine, Women, and Song). According to Honeck: “I’m not sure what Johann Strauss thought of this song, but he probably thought that wine, woman and song made for a great combination.” All of waltzes and scores played this evening were wonderful, and I’m glad that some of the more obscure pieces were played. Somehow it felt like New Year’s Eve at the conclusion of the evening, especially after two ‘encore’ pieces were played, ending with the Radetzky Marsch by Johann Strauss Sr.