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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Works Volume 2

Twelve Morceaux Op.40 (1878) [46.58]
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
Recorded in Moscow, 1986
AULOS MUSIC AMC2-030 [46.58]

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Works Volume 3

Six pieces Op.19 (1873) [29.15]
Two Pieces Op.10 (1871) [6.50]
Romance Op.5 (1868) [6.22]
Valse-Scherzo Op.7 (1870) [4.24]
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
Recorded in Moscow, 1988
AULOS MUSIC AMC2-031 [52.37]

In a sense it’s a slight – though not unpleasant – surprise to see Aulos reissue Pletnev’s Melodiya recordings of the Tchaikovsky piano works. The recordings here were made between 1986 and 1988 and are by some way the most recently recorded pieces I’ve reviewed thus far in Aulos’s DSD remastering series. The process has been aided by virtue of the Korean company’s access to Melodiya’s tapes. The whole thing has been sensitively done, though the notes give the bulk of the space to descriptions of the mechanics of Direct Stream Digital.

The original recordings in truth weren’t of the finest; there’s a rather recessive quality to them that means that the degree of opacity sometimes clouds articulation. That said the morceaux – both Op.40 and the remainder – benefit from Pletnev’s seemingly plastic understanding of melody lines and weight usage. The Etude of Op.40 is negotiated with sparkling effervescence and there’s just the right amount of gravity in Chanson Triste. He navigates the variousness of the Marche funebre with authority never giving in to bombast and maintaining tonal colour, and makes something droll indeed of the second Mazurka in the sequence – note his pert and witty left hand voicings amidst the wit. This is an aspect of the writing to which he responds with wholehearted animation as one can appreciate further, and perhaps more fully, in Au village where the whirling dance sections sweep one, off kilter, into the folkloric skirl of things. Then again he’s sensitive to the Chopinesque veil that haunts the second Waltz.

The second disc under review is the third volume to be issued. Granted these are less immediately important or serious but there are still virtues in the playing notwithstanding the boxy sound (Pletnev has re-recorded a number of the less well known Morceaux since, but not so far as I know, any of these). In Op.19 he manages to be both expressive (Reverie) and crisp (Scherzo humoristique) though he seldom stints the simplicity and longing in such as the Nocturne. Even in the Capriccioso there’s a deal of lyric phrasing though perhaps one of the most immediate highlights of this disc is the fun he extracts from the Humoresque Op.10 No.2. In the early Romance one finds Pletnev responding well to the moods of fragility and snappy vigour that make up its sound world.

Philips has some Pletnev-Tchaikovsky recorded examples made around this time and of the things not covered here, principally The Seasons, we have discs on Philips and Virgin. Given the occasional nature of the morceaux this is hardly a pressing purchase but for Pletnev admirers it’s pretty much self-recommending.

Jonathan Woolf

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