Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: review,tchaikovsky
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
WORKS: Works by Tchaikovsky
PERFORMER: Denis Matsuev (piano); Mariinsky Orchestra/Velery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR 0548

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Denis Matsuev brings a forthright muscularity to Tchaikovsky’s first two Piano Concertos, and his direct, masculine approach works well both in the over-familiar First and the rather stop-start excitement of the Second. Matsuev is not the most poetic or exploratory of pianists, but he plays with a vigour and clarity that are engaging and often thrilling. He’s recorded both works before, and his approach is remarkably consistent. What he lacks in subtlety he makes up for in infectious enthusiasm, and you are swept along by his taut rhythmic drive and excitable bravura. These aren’t the only performances of these works you’d want to hear, but there is a lot to enjoy.

The Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev doesn’t quite match their soloist’s incisiveness, but that may be partly due to the slightly recessed orchestral sound. Nevertheless, the violin and cello soloists in the slow movement of the Second Concerto play with a richly expressive soulfulness, more so than Matsuev himself, giving this movement a greater heart-on-sleeve emotional commitment than is found elsewhere. Normal service resumes in the finale, where – as in the outer movements of No. 1 – the pianist’s crisp attack and verve come to the fore. It is exhilarating, if rather one dimensional. Others – Daniil Trifonov (also Mariinsky) and Stephen Hough (Hyperion), for example – call on a broader expressive palette without sacrificing virtuosity. Nevertheless, this music generally responds well to such an enthusiastic romp.

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Tim Parry