Russian Accents: Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and the Piano

Russian Accents: Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and the Piano

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 8:00pm

In addition to sizzling live performances by Toradze and members of the Toradze Piano Studio, the program includes piano recordings by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. Russian Accents: Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and the Piano, a one-of-a kind radio documentary series  showcasing the piano music of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. beginning January 16 on Classical 91.5/FM-HD 91.5-1. Alec Baldwin hosts, offering commentary by Stravinsky himself, Alexander Toradze, Valery Gergiev and Joseph Horowitz, as they explore the life and music of two master Russian composers both of whom were also important pianists - and both of whom emigrated to the United States. The repertoire ranges from such favorite works as Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (in a two-piano version by the composer), to such rarities as Rachmaninoff's First Piano Sonata and Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Solo Pianos.

Among the many novel features of the program are observations (with musical examples) about the relationship between Rachmaninoff's First Symphony and his valedictory Symphonic Dances; and a comparison (with music examples) of Stravinsky's score for his Piano Sonata with a revised score prepared by his son Soulema. 

The performers, mainly Russian and Georgian, are pianists long associated with this repertoire, including little-heard two-piano works.  And all the music played is live and unedited!
Alexander Toradze has long been regarded as a singular exponent of the Russian keyboard repertoire; he regularly appears with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, and other major international ensembles.  A recent review in The Guardian (London) reads in part: "Alexander Toradze plays as a man possessed, as if umbilically attached to the instrument, which in his hands becomes as varied and expressive as a full orchestra….Toradze made light of the concerto's ferocious virtuosity, bringing sumo weight to the left hand while persuading the fingers of the right to dance with mercurial velocity.  The audience roared approval."  Toradze's recordings of all five Prokofiev concertos with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra are acclaimed by critics as "historically the best on record."

The Toradze Piano Studio, housed at The Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend, is a unique entourage of Toradze's former and current students at UI South Bend, and assistants regularly tour the music capitals of Europe and such festivals as Edinburgh, Salzburg, and White Nights (St. Petersburg).  "The Toradze Studio marathons give Toradze a chance to showcase the multinational handful of pianists he has guided over the years at the University of Indiana South Bend in the US.  Several are embarked on solo careers, none is a Toradze clone, but all represent the big-boned Russian school of which Toradze is the exemplar." (Andrew Clark, The Guardian).

Sergei Rachmaninoff (April 1, 1873-March 28, 1943) is widely considered one of the great pianists of the twentieth century.  As a composer he is a last Romantic whose popularity rests on a relatively small sampling of his vast output for keyboard.  "Russian Accents" includes the Piano Sonata No. 1, the Third Piano Concerto, the Symphonic Dances, the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, and numerous shorter pieces.  Commentary by Toradze and others stresses the relative importance of Rachmaninoff's lesser-known keyboard works.  The "Faust" scenario of the First Sonata is explored in detail.

Igor Stravinsky (June 17m, 1882-April 6, 1971) began composing in 1903, when he was barely 20 years old and a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg.  His earliest surviving composition, sampled on this program is an F-Sharp Minor Sonata composed for Rimsky-Korsakov.  Stravinsky was forced to leave forever his beloved St. Petersburg due to the Russian Revolution which began in 1917.  He fled to France where he became a naturalized citizen in 1934, then came to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1945.  He died on April 6, 1971.  The Stravinsky repertoire featured on "Russian Accents" includes three movements from Petrushka (as performed by Toradze at the Cliburn International piano Competition), The Rite of Spring, the Piano Sonata, the Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, and the Concerto for Piano and Winds (with Toradze accompanied by DC's Post-Classical ensemble, led by Angel Gil-Ordonez).