WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Concert Fantasia
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)New York PO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-95069-2
Any pianist with the stamina and range for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto should certainly go on to investigate two other big-boned charmers (forget the thick torso of the Third Concerto, sounding more than usually congested in scoring here). Elisabeth Leonskaja has the quick-change artistry necessary to embrace the Second Concerto’s whimsical mood-swings. Intelligence is deftly established as she springs through Schumannesque fantasy shortly after the grandiose beginning; and she brings a thoughtful lyricism to the lovably quirky Concert Fantasia. In the latter, she steers back on noble course the most sustained of all cadenzas (if one can so describe a seven-minute piano solo). Masur and the New York Philharmonic provide articulate support – clipped rather than expansive at the start of the Second Concerto. A few scrambles here and a conspicuously wrong clarinet entry in the Concert Fantasia, as well as a bronchial New York audience, reveal the live origins that Teldec’s information seems at pains to conceal. Still, several sequences of long-term excitement make it worthwhile, as do two magical, atmospheric slow movements. The Second is absolutely complete – gone are the days of Tchaikovsky disciple Siloti’s cuts – and it features majestic solos from the NYPO’s leader and principal cellist. The First feels more dreamlike and, on the main theme’s return, more sustained than any I know.
Richter and Kondrashin, on the other hand, lack patience here, prompting the thought that Leonskaja must have provided the perfect feminine complement in her two-piano partnership with Richter. He certainly has the greater thunder and rigour for Tchaikovsky’s first-movement adventure, even if, like Leonskaja, he is by no means note-perfect live; but he is also poetry incarnate when Grieg plays his final lyrical trump card.