Prokofiev, Ravel: Piano Concertos
A decade ago I’d have bet you there were only a dozen pianists in the world who could play Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto properly. Argerich wouldn’t touch it, Kissin delayed learning it, and even Prokofiev as virtuoso had got into a terrible mess trying to perform it with Ansermet and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s, when it had gone out of his fingers. But the recent parade of distinguished Seconds proves otherwise: Yundi Li and, best of all, Freddy Kempf are now joined by this rather delicate Russian with an iron-clad technique.
The notes are never a problem, and Anna Vinnitskaya has a dry, clear sound which I think the composer-pianist would rather have admired. Her first-movement cadenza, though, doesn’t quite scale the heights and depths of Kempf’s version, and I’d have liked a little tenderness in the wistful tune which finally emerges out of the finale’s helter-skelter (thrilling at the start).
Tenderness and fantasy, too, might have made for a more individual Ravel Concerto, though again the clarity of the fast passages is impressive. Here the Berlin Radio woodwind outstrip their soloist for imagination in the slow movement, and Gilbert Varga’s direction is precise and detailed as well as being a little more atmospheric than his pianist’s.
Overall, the ratings are the reverse of the Yundi/Ozawa partnership in the same double bill. The sound gets the difficult balances exactly right, I think, in both works. And I certainly want to hear more from this phenomenally equipped pianist. David Nice