From the recording Misterioso più agitato
Concerto #1 in Bb minor for Piano and Orchestra
The Piano Concerto #1 in Bb minor by James Domine is cast in the traditional 3 movement sequence and represents a living struggle between the apparent mystery of life, its obscure meaning and destiny, rife with tragedy and adversity, the subsequent striving for balance and tranquility that arrives finally at a state of comparative balance and purposefulness. These three philosophical modes are represented in the 3 movements, the first being full of dramatic conflict, the second a yearning desire for peaceful resolution, and the third an uneasy truce between the two that objectifies a sense of triumph over despair. Sketches for the piece were begun as early as 1972, and the composer worked on it for a period of study with Roy Harris. Many subsequent revisions were made in the intervening years and it was presented in its final form by pianist Dr. Lorraine Kimball, who was instrumental in making many valuable suggestions regarding the realization of the piano part, at a concert given with the composer conducting in 1986. The concerto is scored for piano solo with standard symphony orchestra accompaniment.
The first movement, Misterioso piu Agitato, begins with a slow introduction that juxtaposes two opposite harmonic realms represented by the interval of a diminished fifth. As the opening sequence drifts aimlessly through a cloud of amorphous sonorities, the principal theme is suddenly and aggressively thrust center stage by an angry orchestral tutti marked Agitato. The piano solo takes up this theme and wends its way to the contrastingly quiet subordinate theme. An episode of melancholic discourse between the piano solo and the various instruments of the orchestra ensues, creating an air of confidential intimacy. The exposition ends with an elided dominant cadence which is left unresolved and that leads directly to the development section. Chord clusters built on hexachords provide the piano accompaniment while a serialized variation on the principal theme weaves through the instrumental texture. This tripartite antiphonal sequence works toward a culmination as the theme is expanded in rhythmic layers, finally reaching a cacophonic explosion. The piano leads a retransition based on the slow introduction to the recapitulation, this time with the piano and orchestra alternating variations on the principal theme. After the lyrical restatement of the subordinate theme, the coda confronts us with a starkly bleak musical atmosphere that concludes with a fiery flourish.
The second movement, entitled Soliloquy begins with a tranquil melody in the flute accompanied by the harp and cello, setting up the romantic principal theme stated by the piano solo. This rhapsodic passage with Spanish overtones leads to a post-impressionist fantasy with a feeling of uncomplicated, childlike simplicity. The dream unfolds, leading us back eventually to a restatement of the main theme, presented in its final form, ending with a calm quietude in direct opposition to the conflicting emotions of the preceding movement.
The Finale attempts to reconcile the strife of the first movement with the serenity of the second by tempering despair with hopefulness. This movement is a cathartic expression of the transcendence of the human spirit over adversity. The exuberant opening theme is introduced in the trombones with a stratospheric obbligato of high strings and winds. An agitated passage in the piano reminiscent of the principal theme of the first movement dissolves into the subordinate theme, an hypnotic meditation with the piano providing a jazz-like accompaniment to a variation played by a solo cello. A scherzando section follows, a kind of satire of the first movement using the bass drum, piccolo and trumpet as comedic characters in an offbeat parody. An harmonic sequence of gently unfolding chords leads gradually upwards, forming a transition back to the main theme. A plaintive restatement of the subordinate theme ensues, and for a moment the piece seems to be losing itself in darkness as it spirals downward into a new dimension of melancholic depression. Just as the piano can seemingly descend no farther, the strings turn a corner and a resurgently aggressive main theme is used as the vehicle for the final ascent. The orchestral and harmonic textures expand as the music moves inexorably upwards, leading to a freshly exuberant coda where the main theme is counterpoised against memories of the first movement, quoted in the piano solo like last vestiges of a cold winter, melting away into the triumphant final statement of the main theme, bringing the concerto to a brilliant conclusion in the key of Bb major.
This archival recording features Paul da Silva pianist with James Domine conduting the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra.