WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 24-27
PERFORMER: Vassily Primakov (piano); Odense SO/Scott Yoo
CATALOGUE NO: 9328A/B
Said the hat check girl to Mae West, ‘My goodness what beautiful diamonds!’ Came the leering reply: ‘Goodness had nothing to do with it.’ Goodness, its nature and the difficulty of defining it, has everything to do with this outstanding release.
The piano playing is of exceptional quality: refined, multi-coloured, elegant of phrase and immaculately balanced, both in itself and in relation to the effortlessly stylish orchestra. The rhythm is both shapely and dynamic, the articulation a model of subtlety. By almost every objective criterion, Vassily Primakov is a Mozartian to the manner born, fit to stand as a role model to a new generation.
Yet to one listener, he poses vexing questions. Can one play too beautifully? Can elegance, indeed, subvert genius? The numerous virtues of Primakov’s playing are ones I prize highly, and too often miss in the playing of others. Yet particularly in the great, large-scale concertos, K491 and K503 (the latter so thrilling in its symphonic grandeur), I feel a want of size, of depth, of towering stature.
I hear too little contrast between the dark, deeply personal intensity of K491 and the almost archaic galanterie of K537. Indeed, with few exceptions, the dynamic range is frustratingly restricted; and the necessary juxtapositions of extremes within it – necessary for dramatic declamation and sustained rhythmic energy – are largely missing. Mendelssohn wrote songs without words; Mozart’s concertos are operas without words – something hard to recognise here. Jeremy Siepmann