Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tutti-Oh, What a Relief It Is

This is a Tales repeat post, that was first published in 2012.

A great feature of a Houston Symphony concert at Jones Hall is the pre-concert lecture they have called "prelude", which occurs about 45 minutes before each concert.  The speaker gives out wonderful information about the concert we are about to hear-about the music and about the composers.  I have learned much about classical music from these talks. I learned a new term from last Saturday's [January 21, 2012] prelude: tutti.

Tutti literally means all together [implying the whole symphony orchestra].  In a concerto, where there is a soloist and the orchestra, tutti passages are those passages where the orchestra plays while the soloist is silent.  Tutti passages can be very helpful to the soloist in a long concerto giving the soloist a brief break. 

Sergei Rachmaninoff [1873-1943]
We were told that the Rachmaninoff piano concerto #3, known as the Rach 3, is considered one of, if not the most difficult piano concertos ever composed.  It is so difficult not just because of the physical playing involving so many large chords and technically difficult passages, but also because there are very few tutti passages in the concerto.  It is almost continuous piano playing without a break for the soloist for very long stretches.

I did a post earlier on cadenzas where [usually near the end of the first movement and sometimes third movement of a concerto] the orchestra stops playing and is silent while the soloist gets to show off his virtuosity.  So, while cadenzas are meant to demonstrate the skills of the soloist, tuttis, when the orchestra plays while the soloist is silent, are sometimes helpful in giving the soloist relief in a physically demanding concerto.

Let's look at the aforementioned piano concerto by the great Russian Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.  You will see in this 14 minute plus finale, Alla breve, that except for a tutti passage that goes from 2:40-3:13 of this video and one from 9:00-9:22, it is continuous piano playing [and you will see that it is physically demanding continuous piano playing].  With this technical and physically demanding concerto, I'm sure the soloist appreciates those two tutti passages for some brief relief.

Because there are so few breaks for the pianist in the Alla Breve movement, the two tuttis that the pianist does have must have the soloist thinking to himself when the tuttis do come, "Oh, what a relief it is."  

Please turn up the volume and watch in full screen this great display of virtuosity by the soloist in the final movement of one of the greatest piano concertos in the repertoire, the "Rach 3".

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #3 in D minor, Movement 3, Alla breve:




Now an added bonus video of a concerto where I will let you see if you can pick out the tutti passages on your own; those passages where the orchestra is playing without the soloist.  I will stick with the Rachmaninoff theme by having the ultra beautiful final movement of Rahmaninoff's second piano concerto.  I'll give you the first tutti--the opening of the movement that lasts for about 20 seconds before the soloist enters the fray, and the second tutti from 1:47-2:19.  Now let's see if you can pick out the other tuttis. 

Again please turn up the volume and enjoy this melodic filled piano concerto, with one of my favorite pianist, Yuja Wang, as the soloist. 

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #2 in C-minor, Movement 3, Allegro Scherzando:





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