2015 is Orchestra Wellington’s exploration of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies, as well as six piano concertos performed by NZ pianist Michael Houstoun. The second concert in their Six by One series features Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Little Russian’, and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
It’s been suggested that Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto reveals a great deal about what he was like as a performing pianist, with its combination of exuberance and poetic introspection. Lindis Taylor wrote of Michael Houstoun’s performance in Middle C:
“It was interesting to have a fundamentally non-flamboyant pianist, much concerned with the metaphysical, at the keyboard for it allowed the essential quality of the music to emerge rather than having to search for it through a haze of glitter and bravura.”
Finally, Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Symphony was written during an idyllic vacation at his sister’s villa in the Ukraine, and much of its musical material comes from Ukrainian folksongs taught to him by the estate’s butler. For Tchaikovsky and many Russian composers, it was the songs of the people which would help them create a distinct Russian school of composition, and this new symphony was an immediate success. And the title? The Ukraine at the time was known (to Russians) as Little Russia, and a friend of the composer dubbed the 2nd symphony ‘The Little Russian’.