Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – André Tchaikovsky
We now have piano concertos by three composers called Tchaikovsky. The first is written in B flat minor, a dark key that others mostly shunned. The second is by Boris Tchaikovsky, a student and kindred spirit of Dmitri Shostakovich. The third is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
In the first place, its composer’s name is not really Tchaikovsky. That was a name picked by his grandmother to pluck him from the Warsaw Ghetto and keep him alive, hidden in a closet, until the Nazis were defeated. The boy, a pianist and composer, was an unsettled soul who lived mostly in England until his death of cancer, aged 46, in 1982. For many years he was known as the man who left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in the gravediggers’ scene in Hamlet.
Last summer, however, his opera The Merchant of Venice received a triumphant premiere at the Bregenz Festival and the third Tchaikovsky (too late to change the name) is now firmly back in play. His piano concerto, written for Radu Lupu in the late 1960s, reflects the swirling currents of Sixties London. Atonal and dramatic, it is austere only in its frugality – not a note out of place. A sultry mischief, alternately angry and amused, pervades the work. The music engages the listener with a powerful personality and an infectious musicality. We need to hear this concerto at the BBC Proms to sample its exciting potential. The performers here are Maciej Grzybowski and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, conductor Paul Daniel.
André Tchaikovsky’s extraordinarily articulate diaries, also published this month by Toccata, recount a dauntless human odyssey.
Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.