Listening to Beethoven #49 – Rondo for piano and orchestra in B flat major


Portrait of Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Riedel

Rondo in B flat major WoO 6 for piano and orchestra (1793, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This work bears all the hallmarks of the last movement of a piano concerto, so it comes as no surprise to learn that it was originally intended as the finale for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat major, Op.19. This work was particularly long in the making, for it was begun – and more or less finished – in Bonn but held back from full publishing until 1801.

The Rondo, composed in 1793, stands alone, and is used by some pianists as an attractive filler to recordings of the concertos. It was not published in the composer’s lifetime, and the solo part needed completion by Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny before it was finally issued in 1829. Beethoven replaced the Rondo with another finale for the concerto, probably in 1794,

Writing about the piece in the booklet for his recent recording on Naxos, Boris Giltburg suggests the composer ‘felt that the Rondo was too jovial and gallant in spirit, and that the deeply poetic second movement (of the concerto) required a much more energetic, irreverent and humorous finale as a counterweight.’ He opts for the original version in his performance ’only adding short transitions and a cadenza where indicated by Beethoven. In my opinion, the Rondo is a lovely standalone piece, fun and carefree, and it deserves to be played—though I fully agree with Beethoven’s decision to remove it from the Concerto proper.’

Thoughts

The piano begins this piece with a bright, rippling theme, with Beethoven in effervescent mood. The strings respond with lilting syncopations, before the orchestra offer a fuller response. This is music with its roots in the dance, leading you to wonder if Beethoven was indeed experiencing new forms of dance in Vienna.

The piano has plenty of room for display, with quickfire ascents and descents, and extended passages with the fingers playing octaves apart. Beethoven does take room for the second theme, however, piano and strings uniting in a softer, detached melody which still has a dance lilt to it.

The piano leads the orchestra the whole way through, adding flicks and tricks to the mix while the orchestra look on. It is a classic concerto finale, and while at this stage we will take Boris Giltburg’s word for its successor being more suitable for the Piano Concerto no.2, we will have to try it out when the chance arises!

Recordings used

Ronald Brautigam (piano), Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott (BIS)
Boris Giltburg (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

Ronald Brautigam’s version is unclear, but the shorter duration of his and Sviatoslav Richter’s recordings would suggest they have taken on Czerny’s revisions. Both versions are excellent, but Richter’s rapport with the orchestra in the softer passages is lovely. The freshness of Boris Giltburg’s account and the newness of the recording tips the scales in his favour, for he clearly loves the piece.

Spotify links

Boris Giltburg, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)

Ronald Brautigam, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott

Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1793 Haydn 3 String Quartets Op.74

Next up Piano Trio no.1 in E flat major Op.1/1

Online recommendations – Gramophone Charity Gala & English Music Festival

To hopefully boost your Monday evening Arcana has two recommendations for online music – one recently given and a whole festival of music later in the month to look forward to.

Last night Gramophone magazine held the Gramophone Classical Music Awards Winners Charity Lockdown Gala, a three-hour event whose purpose was ‘to support musicians whose work has dried up due to the Covid-19 crisis, and who are finding themselves in severe financial difficulty’. You can watch on YouTube below, with the concert available until this Sunday 17 May – and you can donate on the links given at the link too:

The program was richly entertaining, from the Zoom-based capers (and brilliant singing) of I Fagiolini performing Monteverdi to a number of sublime excursions into the world of solo Bach, led by Sir Antonio Pappano. There were special performances from guitarist Sean Shibe, in a selection of Scottish lute tunes, pianist Vikingur Ólafsson in Rameau, Beatrice Rana and Boris Giltburg playing Chopin, Ian and Oliver Bostridge performing Beethoven and the Pavel Haas Quartet playing Dvořák.

Meanwhile the enterprising team behind the English Music Festival, scheduled for May and inevitably cancelled, have ensured the event will take place online. They have rustled up a most impressive programme, with concerts featuring recordings from the ‘house’ label EM Records but, most excitingly, with online concerts from violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck, cello and piano team Joseph Spooner and Nicholas Bosworth, Ensemble Hesperi and pianists Paul Guinery and Duncan Honeybourne (above)

For more information and to donate / buy tickets, you can visit the festival’s programme page here

Wigmore Mondays – Boris Giltburg plays Rachmaninov Preludes

Boris Giltburg (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 30 September 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

When Bach finished the first set of his celebrated Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722, he set in motion an approach to writing for the keyboard that has captured the imagination of several other composers through the centuries, writing a prelude and / or a fugue in each of the 24 keys and having them performed as a collection.

Sergei Rachmaninov was one of those composers so influenced, though he didn’t approach it as a collection initially. In fact he began with just one piece, the Prelude in C sharp minor, which sat in the middle of the 5 Morçeaux de Fantaisie for piano when published in 1892. With the composer still in his late teens, this Prelude shot him to stardom – and so he was only too happy to revisit the form with another 23 pieces, delivered in two installments in the years 1903 and 1910.

The prelude became one of Rachmaninov’s primary methods of expression in his solo piano music, and the pieces are much loved. Boris Giltburg’s selection here did not however include the two most famous examples – the C sharp minor piece, nor the famous G minor prelude from the Op.23 set, Boris Giltburg preferring instead to show that the other 22 are absolutely not to be overlooked! From these he picked a selection of 14, arranged chronologically but also logically in their key groups.

Rachmaninov’s writing for piano is almost instantly recognisable, and only a few seconds of the Prelude in B flat major Op.23/2 (1:27) are needed to confirm his authorship. The ready and natural flow of notes, the power of the right hand, working in octaves on this occasion, and an outpouring of passion. Giltburg kept a fine measure of expression and control.

He complemented this heady start with the soft yet ardent Prelude in D major Op.23/4, and then another stream of consciousness from the Prelude in C minor Op.23/7, carrying all before it to an emphatic end. Giltburg’s phrasing was ideal here, knowing when to ‘breathe’ in the longer phrases.

The Prelude in A flat major Op.23/8 shows something of the influence of Chopin, and this one too flowed nicely under Giltburg’s direction. Shifting the base to the Prelude in E flat minor Op.23/9 brought a more worrisome outlook, the right hand more agitated and becoming relatively sombre in its closing statement. The last of this set, the Prelude in G flat major Op.23/10, negotiated calmer waters, Giltburg lost in thought and the music.

The Op.32 selection begins in the ‘purest’ key, C major, so named as all its notes are the white keys on the piano – yet from Rachmaninov this is his shortest prelude, powered here by Giltburg’s weighty left hand opening. It formed a nice gateway to the Prelude in B flat minor Op.32/2, from which we were led to the heroic Prelude in E minor, the fourth in the set. This was brilliantly characterised and paced by Giltburg, a darkly dramatic performance.

The serenity of the Prelude in G major Op.23/5 was beautifully observed, as was the stark contrast to the following Prelude in F minor Op.32/6, which erupted out of the blocks. Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the substantial Prelude in B minor Op.32/10, a response to Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Heimkehr (The Homecoming, above), a piece of genuine, bittersweet emotion, especially at the end where Rachmaninov struggles to choose between the minor and the major key.

After this the penultimate Prelude in G sharp minor Op.32/12 had a touch of the Mediterranean in its tremolo passages, and here Giltburg again gave the music plenty of room to breathe, his virtuosity extremely impressive. The final, substantial Prelude in D flat major Op.32/13 had a keen sense of homecoming, given a regal air in this performance.

Repertoire

Boris Giltburg played the following Rachmaninov Preludes (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Rachmaninov
10 Preludes Op.23 (1902-03) – excerpts: in B flat Op.23/2 (1:27); in D Op 23/4 (5:09); in C minor Op 23/7 (9:27); in A flat Op 23/8 (12:04); in E flat minor Op 23/9 (15:56); in G flat Op 23/10 (18:15)
13 Preludes Op.32 (1910) – excerpts: in C Op 32/1 (23:05); in B flat minor Op 32/2 (24:34); in E minor Op 32/4 (27:31); in G Op 32/5 (33:03); in F minor Op 32/6 (36:18); in B minor Op 32/10 (37:50); in G sharp minor Op 32/12 (43:17); in D flat Op 32/13 (45:48)

He also played Schumann’s Arabeske in C major Op.18 (52:00) as an encore:

Further listening

All the preludes in this concert can be heard on this playlist in the order they were performed, using Giltburg’s own recently issued recording:

Giltburg proclaims Rachmaninov to be a favourite composer, and his recent recording of the composer’s Piano Concerto no.3 gives the listener little doubt in that respect! It’s coupled with the solo Variations on a Theme of Corelli:

Meanwhile this earlier release for Naxos gives a welcome coupling for the second set of Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux Op.39 – one of his best achievements for solo piano – and the impressive 6 Moments musicaux Op.16, which between them last around half an hour and contain some deeply expressive music: