These two oft-recorded
concertos make a strong pairing, given
that any pianist-orchestra combination
with the artistic wherewithal to tackle
them is practically bound to have significant
things to say. So it proves here, not
least because the ‘historical’ performance
from Byron Janis and the Boston Symphony
Orchestra sounds so well in this recent
At the time of the
performance Janis was still a young
man, not yet thirty, and Munch was one
of the world’s top conductors. Their
recording of this great concerto proved
another highlight in a distinguished
and enduring discography, recorded in
the glowing acoustic of Symphony Hall.
The tempi Janis adopts
in the outer movements are on the brisk
side; but no matter, since he brings
them off with such panache. The music,
moreover, is strong enough to accommodate
such an approach, and in any case there
is a long-term vision at work, with
the contrasted second subject phrased
very much in context. Munch too plays
his part in controlling appropriate
orchestral shadings and attention to
the details of phrasing.
The other movements
are no less successful, with the finale
particularly exciting in its rhythmic
incisiveness and sheer élan.
Only the slight lack of richness and
sophistication in the recorded orchestral
sound reveals this as a recording of
an earlier generation. Janis was a major
talent and this performance serves his
Barry Douglas too,
though an artist of a later (the present)
generation, is a distinguished pianist
with a reputation that goes before him.
From the opening piano chords the performance
is compelling, based upon an impressive
technique that commands both the keyboard
and the score. The tempi are successfully
judged, so too the orchestral textures
in a concerto that is more subtle in
these matters than is commonly supposed.
In fact the slow movement is a gem,
full of perceptive touches and details.
At first the finale seems to sweep all
before it; but of course the music has
more than the one dimension, and includes
one of the composer’s best tunes. Tilson
Thomas and Douglas milk this for all
it is worth, without resorting to bathos.
Therefore when the main agenda and direction
are resumed, the effect achieved is
With good recorded
sound this performance makes a worthy
companion to the Boston Piano Concerto
No. 3 with Janis. The accompanying documentation
is rather generalised, and is best described
as adequate rather than inspired.