Tchaikovsky; Prokofiev

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky; Prokofiev
LABELS: Myrios Classics
WORKS: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (1879 version); Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Kirill Gerstein (piano); Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/ James Gaffigan
CATALOGUE NO: MYR 016

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Tchaikovsky’s familiar masterpiece is given a fresh lease of life in this world-premiere recording of the original 1879 published edition (as opposed to the usual 1889 edition) favoured by the composer and conducted by him at his final concert. Listening to it for the first time in this musically illuminating performance proves something of a shock. Among the most notable changes are several extra bars in the middle of the Finale that were cut from the more familiar version, yet their presence serves to make the movement far more structurally satisfying. Likewise, the replacement of the bombastic chords that traverse the whole range of the keyboard in the introduction to the first movement with much gentler broken arpeggios alters the overall trajectory of Tchaikovsky’s musical argument in unexpectedly subtle ways.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Gerstein’s interpretation is his ability to make the piano writing sound much lighter and more transparent than usual. Indeed, in several passages throughout the first two movements, dialogue between piano and woodwind achieves a kind of Mozartian elegance. Instead of the conventional barnstorming bravura, Gerstein brings poetry, balletic grace and an infinitely wide range of timbres. Yet in no sense does the performance seem understated.

The much darker realms of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto demand a rather different approach. Yet both Gerstein and James Gaffigan rise to the challenge with a gripping performance that offers immense emotional weight in the first movement, Gerstein negotiating the long cadenza with formidable architectural control, a broodingly sinister account of the Intermezzo, and a particularly manic approach to the outer sections of the Finale. The only relative disappointment is in the Scherzo where the stream of piano semiquavers could be more relentless.

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Erik Levi