WORKS: Piano Concerto; Poetic Tone-Pictures
PERFORMER: Vassily Primakov (piano); Odense SO/Justin Brown
CATALOGUE NO: Bridge 9309
Dvorák had virtually no formal training as a pianist and did not even own a piano until he was nearly 40. Yet he produced some distinctive music for the instrument and was a good enough performer to participate in the demanding keyboard parts of many of his chamber works.
The five numbers from his Poetic Tone Pictures show Dvorák both at his most assured when writing for the piano and also at his most experimental. His acute ear for sonority is matched by some fascinating, almost Impressionist harmonic touches.
Yet, as widely acknowledged, the solo writing in his Piano Concerto is less successful. Although Dvorák himself revised the part, the work until the second half of the 20th century was usually given in a more virtuoso-friendly version by Vilém Kurz.
After Sviatoslav Richter’s pioneering recording of Dvorák’s original part, a number of pianists have bravely followed. Vassily Primakov stays close to Dvorák’s version and is certainly up to all its challenges. Unfortunately, the rather brittle recorded sound of the piano and a slightly uncomfortable balance with the orchestra often gets in the way of enjoyment.
Moreover, Justin Brown’s approach to tempos, particularly in the first and second movements, is erratic with some uncomfortably choppy speeding up. Nor does the orchestra seem to be entirely ‘on top’ of the Concerto’s demands, delivering at times some decidedly unpolished playing.
Notwithstanding Primakov’s poetic reading of the slow movement, this performance rarely approaches Aimard and Harnoncourt’s splendid reading. Jan Smaczny