Rimsky-Korsakov was born into a Russian aristocratic family, and in his early years had little musical education or training – he was destined for a commission in the Imperial Navy. A meeting with Balakirev in 1861 re-awoke Rimsky-Korsakov’s latent musical talents, and by 1871 he was appointed Professor of Composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, with the added novelty of appearing before his assembled class dressed in Naval Officer’s Uniform.
From 1873-1884, while still a serving naval officer, he was appointed “Inspector of Military Bands”. All the time he was improving his musical education, and it was during this period (circa 1878, it is thought) that this Concerto was written, albeit with military band accompaniment.
The modern tenor trombone has a distinguished lineage of some 500 years and throughout has had the advantage over other instruments of being a fully chromatic instrument.
In this opening movement the solo trombone’s part extends over the instrument’s two-octave range, and falls into two sections with a short orchestral interlude. During the interlude the solo trombone’s theme is taken up by the orchestra. The soloist re-enters with a reiteration of the opening music and a subsequent variant, reaching a climax on a high Bb.
With this lilting movement’s added marking of “espressivo”, the soloist is able to exhibit the trombone’s legato “cantabile” characteristic until, and with a increasing determination, this leads into a cadenza set in the trombone’s upper register. From this the soloist leads directly into a four-bar Allegro bridge passage of “bugle calls” which sets off the spirited rhythmic:-
This movement develops into a conversation between orchestra and soloist. The movement proceeds in its uninhibited way until the Concerto’s second cadenza, out of which a short Coda emerges. The “bugle call” is restated by the orchestra, bringing the Concerto to its final cadence.
Phil Laybourn, tonight’s soloist, adds:
Although written for the tenor trombone, the Concerto is standard repertoire amongst bass trombonists, as the composer makes few demands on the very high register of the instrument. Indeed, in common with solo trombone works of the period, the Concerto encompasses the full downward range of the instrument, including in the 3rd movement cadenza notes that are so low as to be usually unobtainable (and therefore played up an octave) by latter-day tenor trombonists.