Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 - Tchaikovsky
Vladimir Horowitz, piano
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini
Recorded 16th and 24th May, 1941 at Carnegie Hall, New York
Transfer from UK HMV 78s, DB.5988-5991
Matrix nos. 2A.065300-065307 Takes 1A, 1A, 2R, 1R, 2M, 11R, 3R, 7R
Transfers and Pristine Audio XR by Andrew Rose, May 2007
This XR-remastered recording is available in mono and Ambient Stereo. For more information on Ambient Stereo click here.
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor
"Detestably recorded" - The Record Guide, 1951
"Simply amazing" - Miguel Montfort, rec.music.recordings.classical, 2007
"Fabulous...again my gratitude to you for this splendid offering!" - Leon Whitesell, Yahoo Horowitz Group, 2007
Restorer's notes: There's no doubt in my mind that this is one of the great recordings of all time - from the moment you hear the opening horns, orchestral chords and piano entry you know you're in a different league from most mortal performances, and at no point does the application of genius let up - this whole recording is simply magnificent.
However, all was not well with the recording technology, as has been noted elsewhere by previous transfer engineers:
...the Tchaikovsky was originally issued with two dubbed sides (Sides 6 and 8, the second halves of the second and third movements). The originally-issued version of Side 6, Take 11R, was a particularly inept dubbing begun when the cutting turntable had not yet come up to speed, and contained a good deal of pitch instability. This take was replaced on postwar copies by another which sounds like an undubbed take, although the take number is not visible on the pressings. The final side remained a dubbing on postwar versions, one with a sound quality quite different from the rest of the set...(Mark Obert-Thorn, Naxos, 2002)
It is clear that Mark's transfer for Naxos uses the later issue of side 6. This restoration uses the original take 11R for a variety of reasons, though mainly as that was the copy immediately to hand. I also believe that the take would have been chosen for artistic reasons, and as a restoration engineer, decided to take up the challenge of correcting the speed error and integrating the far noiser 6th side into the entire recording. Likewise the final side has been separately adjusted tonally to try to make a smoother transition from the previous sides, though in this case one also detects a greater reverberation, suggesting different microphone technique, and this cannot be reduced using currect technology.
In addition, this transfer of course benefits from the Pristine Audio XR remastering system. Others flaws in the recording don't help at times: "...the mastering of the original metal parts was faulty for several of the sides, leading to swish, inherent noise and...a general fuzziness and lack of focus..." (M. O-T). At times that fuzziness is all too apparent, though I've managed to tame it considerably, whilst increasing the upper frequency range by several kilohertz and correcting tonal inaccuracies inherent in the original.
My clear judgement is that the beneficial aspects of the XR processing far outweigh its occasional highlighting of weaknesses in the original discs - never has this recording sounded quite as good as this!
Andrew Rose, May 2007
Notes on this Concerto from Wikipedia:
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Op. 23, was composed in November 1874 - February 1875 at the instigation of piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubinstein, director of the Moscow Conservatory. It was revised in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888. The concerto is the most famous of the three piano concertos written by Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to Rubinstein, whom he also intended to be its first performer. However, when Tchaikovsky proudly showed the work to Rubinstein and two other musical friends at Christmas 1874, he was met with bitter disappointment. After they had given it a first play-through, Rubinstein hastily dismissed the piano concerto as "banal, clumsy and incompetently written" as well as "poorly composed and unplayable." He then asked Tchaikovsky to undertake a substantial reworking of it in accordance with his own wishes. The composer refused to listen to his friend, changing the dedication to the celebrated German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, an admirer of Tchaikovsky's music.
The first performance took place on October 25, 1875 in Boston. The premiere was conducted by Benjamin Johnson Lang – with the solo piano part performed by von Bülow.
The Russian premiere took place just one week later in Saint Petersburg, with the Russian pianist Gustav Kross and Czech conductor Eduard Nápravník.
The piano soloist in the Moscow premiere in 1875 was Sergei Taneyev.
The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in F, 3 trombones (tenor, tenor, bass), timpani, solo piano, and strings.
The concerto follows the traditional form of three movements:
Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso - Allegro con spirito
Andantino simplice - Prestissimo
Allegro con fuoco
The concerto is markedly symphonic in character and differs considerably from the more musically conservative and outwardly virtuoso type of concerto that was then widely popular in Russia. Yet, the technical demand placed upon the pianist remains considerable. For example, there are a few passages with rapid octave movement. Speed and awkward note arrangement create further difficulties. As well, a performer must keep up with the overall monumental nature of the work with a very powerful tone that often dominates over the orchestra.
The well-known theme of the introductory section to the first movement is based on a melody that Tchaikovsky heard performed by blind beggar-musicians at a market in Kamenka, near Kiev in Ukraine. This, the best-known passage in the entire concerto, is notable also on account of its formal independence of the movement as a whole. It is also notable that it is not written in the concerto's nominal key of B-flat minor, rather it is in the relative major key of D-flat. Despite its very substantial nature, once the theme has been heard twice Tchaikovsky does not return to the material again.
It is very likely the most popular piano concerto ever written.
Also arranged for two pianos by Tchaikovsky, December 1874; revised December 1888.
Van Cliburn won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 with this piece, much to the astonishment of people worldwide, as he was an American competing in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
Vladimir Horowitz famously performed this piece as part of a World War II fund-raising concert in 1943, with his father-in-law, legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Two separate performances of Horowitz playing the concerto and Toscanini conducting were eventually released on records and CD's - the live 1943 rendition, and an earlier studio recording made in 1941.
This piece was also further popularized among many Americans when it was used as the theme to Orson Welles' famous "Mercury Theatre" Radio Program. The Concerto came to be associated with Welles throughout his career and was often played when introducing him as a guest on both radio and television. The main theme was also made into a popular song entitled Tonight We Love, by bandleader Freddy Martin in 1941.
The opening chords of this piece are quoted in Hoodoo by the British rock band Muse's (from their album "Black Holes and Revelations"). Their quotation is played in the relative minor key (B flat minor) to the original (D flat major).
It was played as the final torchbearer entered the stadium for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.