Thursday, 4 June 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2015)

TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No.1
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No.2
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
James Gaffigan, Conductor
Myrios Classics 016 / ****1/2

This may come as a shock to some: the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 we know and love was never approved by the composer. This new recording revives the 1879 version of the warhorse, which Tchaikovsky conducted till his death in 1893, and has since been posthumously replaced by Alexander Siloti's popular edited version. This was also the version performed by Lazar Berman and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at the 1994 Singapore Arts Festival.

What are the major differences? The cascades of opening chords in the 1st movement are arpeggiated (spread out as if being played by a harp), and there is a major restoration of excised material in the development of the finale which is whimsically elaborative, almost altering its complexion. Furthermore, the final run of double octaves near the end is now maginally less brilliant than the Siloti version.

Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein gives an excellent account of these original thoughts, while the unchanged balance of the work has to yield to more explosive performances by Horowitz, Argerich and Freire. Its generous coupling is Prokofiev's monumental Piano Concerto No.2, a masterly and well-judged performance, in its revised version. The original was irretrievably lost during the Russian Revolution, but hope springs eternal for its eventual resurrection and recovery.    

Warner Classics 825646336258 (8 CDs) / *****

The recording legacy of Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) will forever be associated with the Deutsche Grammophon label but he had a very fruitful relationship with the British EMI label, cutting highly successful records from 1946 to 1984. This is the first volume of concerto recordings for EMI, dating from 1948 to 1958, with great soloists all of whom he outlived. The tragically short-lived Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti's takes on Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 and Schumann's Piano Concerto will be cherished for their surprising drive and lack of timidity.

The Schumann also features, despite an unfortunately incomplete 1st movement, with the German Walter Gieseking, who also recorded Mozart (Piano Concertos Nos.23 & 24), Beethoven (Piano Concertos Nos.4 and 5), Grieg and Franck (Variations Symphoniques) with Karajan. True to his authoritarian reputation, Karajan's collaborations were noted for their pristine sense of order and total lack of histrionics.

However there is warmth to the Mozart concerto recordings with The Philharmonic Orchestra, partnering Dennis Brain (another soloist who died young) in the four horn concertos, and a British wind quartet in the Symphonia Concertante K.297b. The absolute rarities are Kurt Leimer's Piano Concerto in C minor and Left Hand Piano Concerto, with the composer as soloist, virtuoso works of neo-Romantic slant with influences of jazz and film music. Finally, Hans Richter-Haaser registers one of the most underrated readings of Brahms's Piano Concerto No.2. Essential listening, not just for Karajanophiles. 

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