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  Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 (1874): Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito; Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I; Allegro con fuoco
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in G-flat minor, Op.23 No.10; Moment Musical in E-flat minor, Op.16 No.2; Daisies, Op.38 No.3; Prelude in G major, Op.32 No.5; Oriental Sketch; Melodie in E major, Op.3 No.3; Concert Paraphrase on ‘Polka Italienne’
Arcadi Volodos (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
Rec. 06/2002 (Tchaikovsky): Philharmonie, Berlin; 04/2003: Scoring Stage, Berlin
SONY SH93067 [54’19]


Volodos has encouraged us to draw comparisons between himself and Horowitz through playing Horowitz’s transcriptions, composing his own transcriptions in the same mould, and by specialising in the same repertoire. This disc continues to divert our attention towards such an agenda and one can be forgiven for questioning whether the accountants are hitching a ride on a dead legend’s reputation, or whether this is truly the Real Volodos we are experiencing.

What is beyond doubt is that Volodos has a technique to more than match his predecessor and his interpretations in concert and on disc do not depict a man at the piano wearing a musical crash-helmet (a description Stephen Hough has fondly related with respect to Horowitz). Yet for all his technical wizardry, the latter virtue prevents this live recording of the Tchaikovsky from acquiring a unique, and necessary, stamp of his personality. And in this respect, I have the same misgivings towards it as I do with Volodos’s recording of the Rachmaninov third piano concerto (Sony SK64384) which, for me, is a performance too comfortable with itself, and emotionally unmoving. There are two criticisms which stand out most clearly here – in the first movement, the pianist adopts a slightly faster tempo at each of his entries and while this can produce an impression of excitement, its success depends upon the sympathetic response of the conductor; but Ozawa returns back to his own tempo whenever the piano stops. Secondly, and perhaps this is simply a matter of preference, the second movement is played beautifully sweet rather than bitterly sweet, giving us no recollection of what had preceded it and for-seeing nothing that follows. But as I stated earlier, maybe that was his intention! Overall, this rendition should please a wide audience, for although the musical rewards are unremarkable, there is much to admire in Volodos’s outstanding pianism. So, by all means, take this respectable candidate back home to mum and dad, but don’t expect it to last a lifetime.

The seven solo pieces which follow the concerto contain piano-playing of the highest quality and if you are tempted to buy this disc, your decision ought to be based on whether you want to hear these. All of them are praiseworthy, but I should particularly mention the Moment-Musical in E-flat minor (Op.16, No.2) and the G-major Prelude (Op.32 No.5), for Volodos gives the most distinguished performances of these pieces I have heard. The ‘Italian Polka’ paraphrase which closes the disc will delight those who have enjoyed his previous transcriptions. Good luck to those who try and write down these bombastic mongrelisms note for note!

Michael McMillan


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