In this elegant work, Tchaikovsky modelled the first movement on Mozart, whom he greatly admired. The next movement, a waltz, is pure joy, while the beautiful third movement is one of his most heartfelt. The finale is based on two Russian folk tunes.
'Three Psalms' was commissioned at the instigation of Michael Houstoun, to whom it is dedicated. This is the piece that he chooses to give as his final public performance in Wellington. The beginning, Aria, introduces a simple kind of melodic motion, which evolves throughout the concerto. This simple idea ‘tells the story’ of the concerto. The uncertain, wandering music of the second movement, Inferno, was inspired by the haunting images in James Nachtwey’s photographic elegy of the same name. The third movement takes the original melodic motion upwards by step, evolving into a celebration of one of the most ebullient passages in piano concerto literature: the initial allegro passage in the first movement of Prokofiev’s third concerto.
‘In ‘Symphonic Dances’, the fast light pulse of the opening bars maintains a constant tension as the first movement explodes into colourful activity. Soulful reeds including a saxophone interrupt with one of Rachmaninoff’s most gorgeously yearning melodies. For the second movement, spectral brass fanfares introduce a curiously halting waltz. The third movement begins with dramatic contrasts leading to a wild Spanish-flavoured dance whose slow middle section is another richly nostalgic meditation. Rachmaninoff’s favourite Dies Irae theme makes a final demonic appearance near the end.