Bedřich Smetana – Vltava, from Má vlast

Czechoslovakian composer Bedřich Smetana wrote a set of six symphonic poems entitled “Má vlast”–literally translated as “homeland”. Typically they are performed as a set, with the exception of this one, the Vltava, (number two of the set) which for whatever reason philharmonics may perform on its own.

The River Vltava is the longest river that runs through the Czech Republic. In the video, you can hear how Smetana evokes winding, rushing path the water takes–from its smooth, rippling beginning to its wild, splashing rapids and how the eddies swirl back down to a calmer state. I especially love the syncopated harp, violins’ pizzicato, and triangle in the beginning! It adds light and texture; one can practically hear the sun glinting off a random ripple here and there; perhaps it’s also the arched trail of water droplets from a random fish hopping out of the water. The other part I love is the gradual addition of pairs of instruments, like different branches of the river gradually coming all together to one main source. It creates a very intimate portrait in the beginning with sole focus on just a few instruments, and almost this IMAX, zoomed-out view when it all comes together.

Unfortunately, this video is cut off before the piece actually ends… however, it is the best recording on YouTube that has video of the orchestra. The next best recording is here: [full audio recording], however I feel it lacks some of the character of Kubelik’s recording. I wouldn’t waste my time on any of the other orchestra-view videos currently on YouTube–they drag, feel heavy, have ensemble issues.

Má vlast
1. Vyšehrad (The High Castle)
2. Vltava (also known as “Die Moldau” in German)
3. Šárka (name of a warrior maiden from ancient Czechslovakian legend of the Maidens’ War)
4. Z českých luhů a hájů (“From Bohemia’s woods and fields”)
5. Tábor (a city)
6. Blaník (a mountain which, legend has it, houses the armies of St. Wenceslas who will awaken and help the country in its most dire hour)

conductor, Rafael Kubelik
Czech Philharmonic, 1990

Feel free to follow along in the conductor’s score here: [Vltava score]

Martha Argerich & Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3

Today I’ve chosen Martha Argerich’s 1982 performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 in d-minor, Op. 30. Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1909, it is considered among the most technically demanding pieces written for classical piano repertoire.

Like in the previous post, Argerich rose to fame when she also won the International Chopin Piano Competition, at age 24, in 1964.

For those who would like to follow along, a full conductor’s score may be downloaded here:
Full conductor’s score for Rach 3

Or, for ease of page turns, an orchestral reduction may be downloaded here:
Orhcestral Reduction score for Rach 3

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No.3 in d-minor, Op.30
conductor, Riccardo Chailly; orchestra: Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
00:30 – movement I: Allegro ma non tanto; (Full: pg.1/ Red: pg. 2)
16:25 – movement II: Intermezzo: Adagio; (44/34)
27:29 – movement III: Finale: Alla breve (65/47)

Yundi Li’s famous winning performance at the 14th International Chopin Competition

This recording is epic enough to open up the first listening post for our blog! This is Yundi Li’s performance at the International Chopin Competition–a very high-stakes piano competition; one of the most prestigious competitions in the world of music. At 18 years of age, Yundi is the youngest person to win the competition as of now (he is now 29).

Listening to this is not only inspirational, but they also have video of him playing to go along with it too! It is breathtaking to see how his hands deftly dance over the key tops and how they seem to summon such lyrical, even-toned playing on what is–at the end of the day–a percussive instrument.

I have provided the timestamps for when each piece approximately begins, and a link to the score so you may print it out and follow along or try to play it yourself! ALSO: the second video that is linked is a fixed-camera view of Only Yundi’s hands. Great stuff if you’re intent on focusing on his hand technique!

2:06 – Frédéric Chopin; Scherzo No. 2 Op. 31, in B-flat minor [score]

Frédéric Chopin; Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 [score]
11:56 – mvmt 1: Andante Spianato;
16:28 – mvmt 2: Polonaise

Frédéric Chopin; Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 [score]:
28:47 – movement I: Allegro maestoso;
49:15 – movement II: Romance, Larghetto;
59:07 – movement III: Rondo, Vivace