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Laurie Niles

2012 Tournament, Round 2, Day 4: Tchaikovsky vs. Bach Double

March 27, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Today we choose the last of our "Final Four" best violin concertos, which will go on to the third round of our concerto tournament, starting tomorrow. (See our Tournament Page for more details. So far, the three finalists are: the Mendelssohn, the Sibelius and the Beethoven violin concertos. Which will be the other one? It's a choice between:

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto vs. Bach Concerto for Two Violins ("Bach Double")

Tchaikovsky Bach

Rachel Barton Pine plays the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, May 2011, with conductor David Handel and the Moscow City Symphony "Russian Philharmonic" in Moscow,

The last movement of the Tchaikovsky requires a combination of raw energy and refinement, and Janine Jansen brings both:

When it comes to the Bach Double, a lot of us know the first movement, which appears in both Suzuki Books 4 and 5, and whether one is a Suzuki student or not, it's usually part of the pedagogical plan for the aspiring violinist. But the other movements are equally wonderful -- arguably, more so!

The second movement often pops up on albums with titles such as, "Best Most Relaxing, Peaceful, Beautiful Classical Music to Chill Out To…" etc. For once, the marketing directors have a point, it is some of the best-crafted and peaceful music in the classical literature:

And how about some period instrument playing? Here is a pair with both great expertise and duet chemistry, Rachel Podger and Andrew Manze playing the third movement:

From Bart Meijer
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 5:21 PM
The choices are getting more and more impossible.
From Matthew Dakoutros
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 5:58 PM
Tchaikovsky will m5ost probably win, though I couldn't resist voting for Bach.
From Gene Huang
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 6:03 PM
Absolutely love the video of Manze & Podger playing the last movement of the Bach Double, especially the bit of improv at 3:45. I love the Bach, but I just can't see it beating out the great Tchaikovsky concerto...
From Terry Hsu
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 6:08 PM
My favorite Tchaikovsky recording. Leonid Kogan with the Paris Conservatoire.

From Paul Deck
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 7:09 PM
I had to vote for the Tchai even though I do adore the Bach Double. I often feel that the first movement of the Bach Double is played too fast but the finale needs to really roll. These two performers nailed it, that was a treat. Jansen's Tchai is awesome. I love her "Bach Album: too with the two- and three-part inventions and nicely in the middle there is the D minor Partita.
From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 7:36 PM
Gotta vote Tchaik.

Had it been Tchaik against one of the solo pieces it might have been a draw...

From Evan Hubener
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 7:52 PM
Oistrakh and Menuhin play the full Bach Double.

From Simon Streuff
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 8:35 PM
Manzes "Ideas" I don't like so much.. but I went with Bach. I loved the recording of menuhin and enescu and listened to it for years. Tshaikovski I discovered relatively late and I like the second movement, but first and third I find "ok".. doesnt touch me so much like other works of tschaikowski
From Michael Pijoan
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 9:21 PM
From Tyler Makinen
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 9:43 PM
Bach for me; as wonderful as some of the themes in the Tchaikovsky are, I find that it has it's "moments" whereas in the Bach Double (if it's played well) I am gripped from start to finish. I expect the Tchaikovsky will probably win, but I am glad (and surprised) to find that they are fairly close in votes.
From Steve Reizes
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 10:15 PM
That was a very difficult decision, but for me the Tchaikovsky gets it because of the 2nd movement. The Canzonetta/Andante ranks up with Bach's Chaconne for me as among the most beautiful works for violin.
From Erica Thaler
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 1:54 AM
Bach. Timeless.
From Davis King
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 2:32 AM
Agreed. Bach.
From Paul Deck
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 3:24 AM
I wonder what would happen if you didn't show the number of votes until the polls were closed?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 3:50 AM
But the Tchaik, it's awesome! It made me fall in love with the fiddle!

From Jim Tsai
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 3:53 AM
not hard to understand at all. when you realize anyone with a smart phone, iPad, or other mobile device with its own account is able to vote more than once. Evidence the total vote tally today.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 6:27 AM
I had the same experience as Laurie. But once I got to see Iona Brown and one of her fellow members of the Academy of St. Martins in the Field play the Bach Double and the image has always stuck with me.
From Paul Deck
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 12:35 PM
@Jim Tsai, Laurie has claimed that there are internal controls to ensure that each user only gets one vote that actually counts in the tally. I noticed that early in the day the Tchaik was leading by a significant margin, but then by midday the Bach was leading but only by a few votes. Either there's a loophole, or early exit polls aren't what they're cracked up to be, or we're dealing with the vagaries and vicissitudes of small-number statistics. The controls that Laurie claims to have would not be that hard to implement, so I'm inclined toward the latter reasons.

Now, about the music. It's awfully hard to compare something like the Tchaik to a baroque concerto. Tchaikovsky had the advantage of being able to study Bach (and everyone else since Bach) but who did Bach study? The originality that is embodied in the Bach Double is truly astounding. But when we listen today -- against the background of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and all the others -- what we hear when we listen to the Bach Double is the pleasant contrapuntal development of a few simple themes played at zippy tempos to make them sound more thrilling. When you listen to the Tchaik (and here I am referring to the linked video of the third movement played by Jansen) you get more of what I would call "sublime musical moments" such as 2:45, 5:15, and 6:15 where the violin yields to moody development in the woodwinds, and of course the finale with the solo violin trading licks with the full orchestra. The third movement of the Bach Double kind of just ends. You just don't get the same bone-chilling, soul-gripping feeling that you get when you listen to the Tchaik. At least I don't. Still the Bach has to be recognized for what it represented in its time, and it does have the internal musical thematic quality (and compositional craft) to last forever, as all the concerti in our little contest surely do.

From marjory lange
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 1:52 PM
What makes Baroque wonderful is different from what makes Romantic music wonderful...some people inherently prefer one; some the other so we all have different criteria for judging what makes the 'better' concerto.

Some comments are about technical 'fireworks,' others about 'emotional depth,' or 'originality,' or...? There's a LOT of room for options...that's what makes this hard--and fun.

Of course if Laurie wanted to make it truly impossible we could be asked to evaluate (rather than share our favorite) individual performances, rather than a 'concerto' as a whole potential/actualized artifact...then duck!

From Gene Huang
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 2:50 PM
Interesting voting dynamics. When I voted in the morning, Tchaik had the early lead. When I checked back in the afternoon, Bach had taken the lead by a few votes, and by late afternoon, it had widened the lead by some 30 votes. I thought that was the end for Tchaik, but here it is on top again.

I'm going to theorize that the younger "student age" crowd (who may prefer Bach since they are learning it or recently learned it) is voting during the day, and the older "working age" crowd who may prefer Tchaik is voting in the evening when they get home. Of course there are exceptions, and I don't mean to offend anybody with my generalizations!

From julio Custode
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 3:05 PM
LOL, for some reason I thought the voting was over last night and the Bach had won. Go Tchaik!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 4:01 PM
No, I'm not just claiming there are controls, there are, it tracks the votes three different ways. So even if it seems like you are voting more than once, that just cancels out your last vote. I think these are both very popular works, and that explains why it was close!

From Simon Streuff
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 4:13 PM
maybe some countrys would vote more for bach others for tshaik. considering the different time zones we are living in the up and down is quite understandable. We are living in the time of globalisation also cultural, but I think it is good, that we still have different opinions in different countries about what we prefer before another.
From Wayne Wilkinson
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 4:16 PM
I think Gene may be right about the student/non-student voting patterns. I've seen some other voting patterns throughout the contest that made me think the "student" works were getting some additional attention in comparison to the "standards" (not that these lines between the two types are always clear).
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 4:23 PM
The different voting patterns are okay with me, though, because it means that people who play the violin are voting. The Bach Double is a very beloved piece. (Even if the Tchaik is more beloveder to others of us....)

In some ways, Bach is a more towering composer, but you can't look at Tchaikovsky as if he's some kind of Bruch, either. He is not a one-hit wonder. I very often think Tchaik is vastly underrated, simply because he was such an over-the-top Romantic. For example, it's a lot more socially acceptable to admit Bach is your favorite composer, but you might get a few raised eyebrows if you say Tchaik is your favorite composer. But the music of Tchaik is incredibly clever, appealing, well-written, etc.

From Paul Deck
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:20 PM
@Laurie when I said "controls" that is what I meant -- I meant your system is checking somehow to make sure there is no stuffing. I didn't mean to imply anything sinister.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on March 28, 2012 at 6:03 PM
Oh, NOOOOOOO!!! I missed the voting!!! I would have voted for the Bach Double. I can listen to it over and over, and never get tired of it. The Tchaik is REALLY great, too, but after I hear it once I'm ready to move on and not listen to it again for quite a while.

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