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Tchaikovsky Plus One, Vol. 3 (Barry Douglas)

Barry Douglas (piano) (Chandos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Tchaikovsky – Plus One, Vol. 3
Tchaikovsky: Dumka, Op. 59 – Russian Rustic Scene; Romance in F minor, Op. 5; 6 Pieces, Op. 51 – excerpts; 18 Pieces, Op. 72 – excerpts; Morceaux, Op. 10 – Nocturne; Prokofiev: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet
Barry Douglas (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20160   78:35 mins

There is a certain strain of late-Romantic music which needs to be handled with tact, sensitivity and indeed empathy by performers if it is not to sound cheaply sentimental and emotionally manipulative. In the last century, Tchaikovsky’s music for a while was widely accused of these failings (notably by non-Russians), and alas it is rather too easy to see why in several of these character pieces. Barry Douglas’s performances are ‘authentic’ in that he appears to be addressing a salon audience and aims to move his listeners with the pathos of these pieces. None of his performances are ‘bad’, but turn to any of the great Russian pianists, and instantly one hears a sympathetic identification with the music’s emotional expression that is missing here. Whether it is Ashkenazy playing the ‘Polka peu dansante’, Horowitz playing the Dumka, or Richter playing the ‘Nocturne’, their every phrase becomes enthralling rather than a series of generic gestures.

It is interesting to hear Prokofiev’s Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet immediately after these pieces: Tchaikovsky’s ‘Danse caractéristique’ appears a clear precursor of the ‘Folk Dance’ which opens Prokofiev’s set. Douglas starts this piece with an attractively joyous bounce, but soon has to amend his tempo to surmount its technical challenges. This seems to affect other parts of the suite: the central section of ‘Mercutio’ sounds far too careful to truly capture the sardonic wit of this character. In all, then, a potentially interesting programme, but not one that Douglas quite carries off.

Daniel Jaffé