WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Pano Concerto No. 2; Festive Overture; The Age of Gold Suite
PERFORMER: Michael Houstoun (piano), John Taber (trumpet); New Zealand SO/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553126 DDD
Shostakovich wrote his First Piano Concerto for himself as soloist – engagements as a pianist were a welcome means of foreign travel – and later committed his interpretation to disc. This presents a problem for other interpreters: how far should they follow the composer’s intentions? A work of extremes, the powerful lyricism which pervades the first three movements gives way to an exuberant, rumbustious finale, complete with parodying quotations from Haydn, Beethoven and the folksong ‘Poor Jennie’.
The composer’s 1955 recording with Samuil Samosud is a tempestuous one, taking the fast passages at an impractical and almost incomprehensible rate. His son, Maxim, captures the essence of that reading in his own very colourful one. By turns vital, thrusting and desolate, his performance is characterised by big gestures which make for a truly Russian interpretation – though there could be less thumping from pianist Eugene List and a less obtrusive trumpet vibrato. More serious is the poor analogue recording of 1975, and some extremely rough and ready wind playing in the Second Piano Concerto (‘perfect for a quiet, contemplative and candle-lit evening’, according to the witless packaging now standard for RCA Classical Navigator discs). In the less accessible Cello Concerto, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky exerts greater discipline over the orchestra.
At the opposite extreme lies the new Naxos version with Michael Houstoun and the New Zealand SO. Entirely devoid of Russian flavour, this neat, very tame account lacks energy and shows a limited breadth of vision on the part of conductor Christopher Lyndon-Gee.
A more promising addition to the catalogue is offered by the new Jansons recording with pianist Mikhail Rudy and the Berlin PO, though even this disappoints. The soloists give accurate, polished performances, but the overall effect seems too smooth and European. A very poised and elegant recording of the early First Symphony is an intelligent and successful coupling. Deborah Calland