Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G; Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat; Concert Fantasy

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G; Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat; Concert Fantasy
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano)Philharmonia Orchestra, LSO/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61631 2 DDD
What exactly it was that sent the crowds wild and won Barry Douglas the gold medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition isn’t quite clear from these studio-bound performances. The recording of the First Piano Concerto was made shortly after that victory, and it includes some imaginative probing of the composer’s more introspective, Schumannesque moments. What we miss is Romantic bravura, and without it the stranger experiments of Tchaikovsky’s other works for piano and orchestra fall flat.

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To hear how the Second Piano Concerto’s epic components sweep together, you have to turn to the unashamedly big-boned reading of Peter Donohoe (a mere joint silver medallist in the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition) on EMI. Like Donohoe, Douglas prefers Tchaikovsky’s original version, until recently supplanted by his pupil Alexander Siloti’s edition which so drastically reduced the ‘triple concerto’ dimension of the second movement. EMI’s luxury casting of Kennedy and Isserlis made all the difference, and good though the Philharmonia principals are here, Slatkin seems determined to keep everything on a classical rein. The one-movement Third Concerto, based on themes for a symphony Tchaikovsky discarded in favour of the Pathétique, and the Concert Fantasy, setting lyricism and bright whimsy at fascinating loggerheads, both have huge piano cadenzas; here, too, Donohoe’s heavyweight thunder is more compelling. David Nice