Thursday, July 31, 2014

Arensky - Piano Concerto In F Minor

Anton Arensky wrote his piano concerto when he was a 20 year old student in his final year at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1881.  He was taught composition by Rimsky-Korsakov and upon graduating he took a position as professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory where he taught Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. He returned to St. Petersburg after a few years as director of the Imperial Chapel. He retired from there after six years.

His composing became sporadic in his last few years as he suffered from tuberculosis that was aggravated by his addiction to alcohol and gambling. His old teach Rimsky-Korsakov said this about his student:
In his youth Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later the influence came from Tchaikovsky. He will quickly be forgotten.
Arensky's music is not altogether forgotten, but the piano concerto comes close as it is seldom performed. It is in three movements:

I. Allegro maestoso -  The orchestra begins the movement with a loud statement followed immediately by the soloist. After the preliminaries the piano states the first theme, a not overly complicated theme but one suitable for the different guises it wears.  There are other short snatches of material that lead up to the lyrical second main theme played by the piano. The tone of the second theme changes from lyrical to strong and forthright, and after a short exchange between piano and orchestra the development section begins. The second theme appears at the end of the development and leads to a short cadenza. Both themes are repeated in the recapitulation, and a short coda ends the movement.

II. Andante con moto -  An introduction leads to the poetic main theme played by the piano.  A middle section is more dramatic and passionate, and after flourishes by the piano the poetic theme returns. The movement ends gently.

III. Scherzo - Finale: Allegro -  Arensky had a liking for odd time signatures, and he uses 5/4 time in this movement. There are two main themes in this sonata form movement, but Arensky doesn't develop them to any great extent. They show up near the end of the movement and the concerto ends with a simple cadence.

While he is more well known forhis chamber music, especially the Piano Trio No. 1, Arensky's piano concerto is an engaging work that mirrors the composers that inspired it, mainly Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and a smidgen of Grieg. It doesn't plumb the depths of emotion but it is well written, especially for a 20 year old student.

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