Tchaikovsky, Camilleri and Stravinsky share honours
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra
There is no doubt that Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat is one of the composer’s best known and most loved works. This very well- known concerto was the first work presented on Friday during the inaugural concert of the sixth edition of the Malta Arts Festival.
The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), under the direction of Brian Schembri, was chosen to participate in the evening when Camilleri, Stravinsky and Khachaturian (in an encore) shared the honours with Tchaikovsky.
The Tchaikovsky Concerto which featured virtuoso pianist Oleg Polianski, from Ukraine, was composed in 1875. The composer was inspired by folk tunes he had heard earlier and by a theme built round his name. Although the structure of the material he had at his disposal seems spontaneous and lyrical, it caused him much planning and calculation. After the debacle with Nicolai Rubenstein, to whom the concerto was at first dedicated, Tchaikovsky was determined to print it as he had conceived it. And he did! However, he did eventually make changes. Hans Von Bulow, who premiered it, was against any change. “Why do you want to make changes to your concerto?” he asked Tchaikovsky. “The great effect of the finale is diminished if the triumphant second motif, before the last stretta is to be played molto meno mosso and not so formal. Perhaps I am mistaken, but the public favours my idea.”
Some of the audience at the MCC also seemed to think that the work was performed without much aplomb and emotion. Personally I would have preferred a slightly faster pace but that decision is for the conductor and the soloist to take and I do not question it. Both are seasoned musicians with a spectacular career behind them. Mro Schembri, the orchestra musicians by and large (except for a couple of instances such as when the trombones were too loud or when the beautiful staccato passage by the strings was marred briefly) and the soloist, brought out the nuances, colours, tempi, lyricism and beauty that are associated with this work . Although this concerto is so well-known, this must have been one of the few occasions – if any – when it was played locally and I am glad that the MPO embarked on such an endeavour.
The second work presented was Charles Camilleri’s New Idea Symphony which is in three movements. This work, commissioned by the de Bono Foundation and premiered in 2009 in Brussels under Mro Schembri, had never been performed in Malta. The overall effect this symphony left on the audience was one of awe, pride and a fair amount of perplexity as some Maltese are still waking up to 20th century music. We felt awed and proud, however, at having important composers (Camilleri was one of them) who can put Maltese music on the map. The first movement starts with a lento spaziale. The strings present a liquidy, floating atmosphere representing the germination of a new life – in this case the germination of an idea that must be nurtured and cultivated until it is ready to be born.
The second and third movements represent the struggle and hard work put in the development of the idea while the last movement represents the moment of triumph, the moment when the whole concept conquers all adversities. Various sections of the orchestra represented different moments and stages of this process but brass and percussion had the lion’s share especially during the vivace section of the second movement.
The concert came to an end with the Firebird Suite by Stravinsky. The magical atmosphere which permeates the ballet was present also in the Orchestral Suite presented by the MPO. I especially liked King Kaschei Infernal Dance which was full of energy and which contrasted well with the Berceuse or Lullaby changing the atmosphere from a fiery to a peaceful one. Quiet, graceful music provided by the bassoon, the violoncello and the horn gave way to great upsurges of music by the strings and percussion which emphasised the beautiful music.
The evening came to an end with Khachaturian’s beautiful Waltz from Masquerade, delivered with verve and excitement by our own MPO.