Liszt, Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor

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COMPOSERS: Liszt,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor
PERFORMER: Fazil Say (piano); St Petersburg PO/Yuri Temirkanov
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-87009-2
Without reading Fazil Say’s thoughts in the CD booklet, one could still guess that he had fresh, individual opinions and feelings about these two well-ridden old warhorses – especially the Tchaikovsky. This isn’t the most scintillating performance ever recorded; beside Martha Argerich’s elemental DG version it can sound tame. But it’s certainly one of the most moving. Say is especially effective in the quieter reflective passages – the first movement’s plaintive second theme, or the dreamy outer sections of the central slow movement. Apparently Say hears ‘pain’, even ‘protest’ in this music. He doesn’t quite convince me that this is one of Tchaikovsky’s most personal statements – a ‘Pathétique Concerto’. But he does find things the blazingly extrovert Argerich misses. Technically, the playing is first-rate. The only flaw comes in

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the big grandioso tune from the Liszt Sonata – at its fortissimo first appearance there’s too much weight in the accompaniment, and the tune suffers. It’s only a passing blemish, though, in an interpretation which is obviously conceived whole. Again Argerich is more compelling, spine-chilling and technically dazzling (who else can play torrential octaves with such fluency and panache?), but in Say’s reading there’s an intimacy and inner absorption rarely matched on record. ‘As for my first attempt to record the work in the studio,’ Say tells us, ‘I can say that it has turned out a success.’ Tiny niggles apart, I’m inclined to agree. Stephen Johnson