Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique" (Piano Transcription)

Chitose Okashiro

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique" (Piano Transcription) Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique," is not a work that even expansive-minded listeners would associate with solo piano performance; so married it is to its unique orchestral sound-world that it would seem inseparable from it. Many listeners, likewise, are familiar with the commercial need for keyboard reductions of major orchestral works like these in the era before recordings, and indeed, one of Tchaikovsky's final acts as composer was to dutifully sketch out a four-hand piano version of the "Pathétique" that, unfortunately, he did not live to complete. Walter Niemann's 1927 solo piano transcription of Tchaikovsky's last symphony did not have a genuinely commercial purpose; it was a project of a great virtuoso pianist and one of the great thinkers and first scholars about romanticism from a retrospective viewpoint. Chitose Okashiro's Pro Piano recording, Tchaikovsky Pathétique Piano Transcription is the first recording made of this effort and one that should have the attention of every pianophile, not just owing to Niemann's extraordinary transcription but to Okashiro's Herculean achievement in recording it.

While one wouldn't think the "Pathétique" is pianistic, in Niemann's transcription it sounds as conceived for the piano. Rather than try and get in every orchestral detail from the symphonic score into the 10 fingers of the pianist, Niemann focused on putting over the content of the music as heard and refashioning it in purely pianistic terms. The effect is extraordinary; for purposes of study, this transcription makes clear the artistic continuum that leads from the Nutcracker Ballet into the "Pathétique," something not at all apparent in comparing Tchaikovsky's orchestral originals against each other. Niemann also deserves praise for recognizing, in his time, the essential seriousness of Tchaikovsky's music, something not well appreciated even 80 years on owing to its tremendous popularity. However, the highest order of commendation goes to Okashiro, as this is a breathtakingly exciting performance; the third movement Allegro molto vivace is like a thrill ride of rapid passagework, and the dramatic material in the first movement is every bit as compelling as it is in a standard orchestral performance. Okashiro's playing is so good one wonders why the whole piano establishment isn't worshipping at her feet. Nevertheless, there is a certain satisfaction to be had when one is on board with a particularly gifted artist and others are not; Pro Piano's Tchaikovsky Pathétique Piano Transcription is a hidden gem that is definitely worth seeking out and will serve as a great trump card at get-togethers where the piano is the topic of the evening.

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