Sonata in A Major, D. 664 Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Schubert exhibited a penchant for beautiful melodies in practically everything he wrote. This was exemplified in his more than 700 art songs. He carried his mastery of tuneful writing over into his instrumental music as well. The Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 664, is a prime example. Following what was to become a paradigm for early sonata form, he infused this three movement work with captivating themes that evoke the pristine atmosphere of the Austrian countryside. The works first movement follows standard sonata-allegro form with the traditional pair of contrasting themes. The triple-metered second movement is in ternary form. The final movement is a rondo in 6/8 meter and contains some of the sonatas most technically demanding passages. The Deutsch catalogue gives the year 1819 as the date of composition.

Mazurkas, Opus 50 Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

A Polish composer who treasured the works of Chopin above all others, Szymanowski naturally gravitated to the folk music of his native land and incorporated much of its distinctive flavor into his own compositions. In the twenty mazurkas that comprise his opus 50, he captures the flavor of this uniquely Polish dance while using melodies of his own invention and harmonies of a modern texture. The three mazurkas featured in this program represent these two qualities. No. 1 has a plaintive melody over chords; No. 2 is vigorous, dissonant and rhythmic; No. 3 uses bitonality and is of a more intimate character. Arthur Rubinstein was a champion of the works of his fellow countryman, frequently programming them in recital.

Barcarolle, Opus 60 Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

One of Chopins greatest and most admired works, the barcarolles lilting 12/8 meter was inspired by the undulating strokes of gondoliers paddles as they glided through the canals of Venice. Chopin infused into this basic idea some of his most inspired musical thought. What emerges is a transcendent statement of eloquence and power.

Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, Opus 22 Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

In 1830-1831, while he was residing in Vienna, Chopin wrote the Grande Polonaise for piano and orchestra, assigning to it the opus number 22. Sometime later he composed the Andante Spianato and joined it onto the Grande Polonaise to serve as an introduction. He then created versions of the work for both piano solo and for piano and orchestra. (This was the last time that Chopin composed anything for orchestra.)  The Andante begins with a hauntingly lovely theme in the higher register. A soulful, contented theme follows and after a recap of the main material, this section ends serenely. (The word “spianato” means even, “level” or “smooth.”)
The Grand Polonaise begins with a fanfare and then launches into an attractive dance theme. It is light, delicate, colorful and full of subtlety. The middle section is initially playful in mood, but later becomes more subdued while sustaining its dance-like character. The main theme returns and the piece climaxes in a brilliant coda.

A Little Suite for Christmas (1979) George Crumb (1929- )

The seven pieces from Crumbs piano suite were actually written in 1980 for the pianist Lambert Orkis, a new music specialist. Inspired by Giottos Nativity frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, each piece aims to capture some aspect of the paintings using Crumbs unique conception of the pianos tonal possibilities. The first movement, The Visitation, uses dissonant harmonies and birdlike melodic figurations. The second, Berceuse for the Infant Jesus, has an innocent charm with its rocking accompaniment and simple melody. The Shepherds Noël, the third piece, resembles Bartoks night music effect as used in his Out of Doors suite. In Adoration of the Magi, ponderous chords represent the three important personages while joyous melodic figures dance above. Nativity Dance is a harsh rhythmic clash of chords, suggesting a general atmosphere of joy. Canticle of the Holy Night uses the most unusual effect that of silently depressing the piano keys while strumming on the strings inside of the piano, in the manner of an autoharp. Over these sounds, Crumb recalls the melody of the English Coventry Carol. The final Carol of the Bells is reminiscent of the Indonesian gamelan.

Concert Suite from the Nutcracker, Opus 71a Tchaikovsky, P (1840-1893)
arr. Pletnev, M. (1957- )

Mikhail Pletnev, born in Archangel, Russia, won the gold medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1978. He has taught at the Moscow Conservatory and transcribed and performed transcriptions of Tchaikovskys symphony and ballet music. In 1990, he founded the Russian National Orchestra and served as its conductor until the late 1990s. He is now its artistic director.
His elaborate arrangement of seven pieces from the Nutcracker was made in 1977 and has since become a popular vehicle for pianists with formidable techniques.

– Program Notes © 2007 Dr. Sterling Adams