LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky & Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
WORKS: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Ingolf Wunder (piano); St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 479 0670
To describe Ingolf Wunder’s performances as couched in a kind of neo-Mozartian aesthetic isn’t to criticise but to applaud them. For both composers, Mozart was their presiding musical deity (Tchaikovsky described Mozart as ‘a musical Christ’). This is not a question of clipped wings or quasi-18th-century etiquette. These are warm-blooded, big-boned, panoramic accounts, richly and subtly expressive without displaying a hint of bombast or manipulative self-indulgence. They are remarkably alike in their natural balance and their ‘symphonic’ demonstration of unity achieved through diversity.
Though the pianist gets the lion’s share of the material in both works, Vladimir Ashkenazy is very much more than an accomplished and insightful accompanist. He is a fully fledged, generous partner, weaving the variegated orchestral strands into a polyphonic tapestry of timbres, perfectly suited to offset and enhance the very different sounds of the piano.
Wunder, meanwhile, easily distracts us, when it’s appropriate, from the essentially percussive nature of his instrument, not least when he uses his power, depth of sound and breadth of phrasing to meet the orchestra on its own terms – as in the first movement of the Tchaikovsky. Indeed this is one of the most subtly and illuminatingly coloured accounts of this work I’ve encountered. In the Chopin, where maximum suppleness is a prerequisite, I felt sometimes a certain squareness in Wunder’s rhythmic articulation, and a certain opacity of tone, not ideally suited to the Mozartian translucency of Chopin’s textures, especially in the first movement. Still, these are both outstanding performances.