First, let me say that I have a perhaps overly enthusiastic response to piano transcriptions of orchestral music; blame it on my past as a pianist who loved playing orchestral arrangements at my own piano. Tchaikovsky asked for friends and colleagues of his to make these transcriptions and without exception they are wonderful.
The musicians who made these transcriptions were Paul Pabst, Alexander Siloti, Percy Grainger and Nikolai Kashkin. All four of had close connections with each other and with Tchaikovsky. Pabst (1854-1897) was a favorite of Tchaikovsky, who described him as a ‘divinely blessed pianist’. Pabst’s brother Louis, also a pianist and composer, emigrated to Australia where he was an early mentor of the brilliant Aussie pianist/composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961). Alexander Siloti (1963-1945) was a first cousin of Rachmaninov (and his teacher) and had studied harmony at the Moscow Conservatory under Tchaikovsky. The least-known of the transcribers is Nikolai Kashkin (1839-1920); he was on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory alongside Tchaikovsky.
The four transcriptions or arrangements:
1. Concert Paraphrase on ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, by Paul Pabst. This seven-minute piece collects various of the themes from the evening-long ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ballet. Unlike the following transcription which limits itself to the ballet’s Third Act, Pabst’s work uses themes from the whole thing. It is a work of surpassing virtuosity and is played as if child’s play by Anthony Goldstone, one of England’s finest pianists. It is of note that Pabst also made paraphrases of the operas ‘Eugene Onegin’, ‘Mazeppa’ and ‘The Queen of Spades’. It seems likely that Goldstone, who has already recorded other transcriptions of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music [divine art dda25093], will get around to these one day. One hopes so.
2. ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ – Act III, by Alexander Siloti. This is the whole act — 23 sections — arranged for piano. It is hard to imagine that this arrangement, though, is the one that ballet companies would use for rehearsals as it, too, is virtuosic and would take an exceptional rehearsal pianist. Again, Goldstone stars. I particularly liked the third variation of the Pas de quatre, the one in 5/8 time followed by the delicious fourth variation. Of course anyone who has ever heard or seen ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ will know many of these sections.
3. Paraphrase on the Waltz of the Flowers from ‘The Nutcracker’, by Percy Grainger. Grainger really goes to town here, adding all sorts of harmonic twists and filigree. One can admire Grainger’s creativity , and yet one comes away with even more admiration for Tchaikovsky’s own creation. This is undoubtedly the most difficult of the pieces recorded here. Goldstone does it proud.
4. Act I Pas de trois from ‘Swan Lake’, by Nikolai Kashkin. This scene occurs early in the ballet and has one man and two woman dancing together and separately at a birthday party (just before the appearance of the swans). It is in six sections; my favorite is section two which has a haunting melody imitated one bar later one octave lower. The Pas de trois has a lively finish that makes a wonderful finish for this wonderful disc.
Many of you know the orchestral originals but if you have any curiosity about these transcriptions or paraphrases you couldn’t do better than getting this disc by Anthony Goldstone. He is not as well known in the US as he should be but he has made a number of terrific recordings which are available here at Amazon.com, e.g. Inspiration: Homage to Maria Curcio (Maria Curcio was Goldstone’s teacher), Russian Piano Music Volume 5. He has also recorded extensively with his duo-piano partner and wife Caroline Clemmow, e.g. Schubert: The Unauthorised Piano Duets.