Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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PETER TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Piano Concerto No 2 in G major (1879) DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No 9 in E flat major Op. 70 (1945)  Andreas Boyde (piano) Freiburg PO/Johannes Fritzsch Live broadcast recording on 13/14 January 1997 at Sudwestfunk  Landestudio, Freiburg - Konzerthaus Freiburg MINERVA ATHENE ATH CD 16 [73:34]



This CD is part of a series entitled the ‘Freiburger Edition’. The edition evidently sets out to document the best of the Freiburg PO’s broadcast concerts as featured on Sudwestfunk in the Landesstudio Freiburg.

Two classic Russian works are offered on a reasonably well filled CD. First of all let me applaud the choice of the second Tchaikovsky piano concerto. The first would have been a more ‘obvious’ but more hackneyed option. As it is the second concerto is a determinedly independent work which refuses to ape the first concerto except occasionally in the first movement. On the debit side it does not have the world-conquering melodies of the first concerto. This version plays for just over 45 minutes and while in no way effacing the Gilels version from some years ago or indeed Peter Donohoe’s (both EMI - not sure if they are currently available) is a vivid document gaining from the immediacy and risk-taking of a live concert situation with an audience (largely silent) present. Certainly, Andreas Boyde gives every sign of revelling in the work - both its showy splendour and its inwardness (very much to the fore in the chamber music interplay between piano, violin and cello). The first movement Allegro Brillante is stormy and turbulent aspiring to the heights of the romantic ideal in a sort of parallel to Manfred. While without the shocking overwhelming gusto and great tunes of No 1 is still has its moments and more especially in first movement with its celebratory theme like some grandiose coronation hymn. The second movement has extensive work for solo violin and cello played with Brahmsian passion, occasional introspection and chamber music texture. The finale glitters like Christmas and is clearly a progenitor of the five Saint-Saens piano concertos and especially the second.

I have less to say about the Shostakovich Ninth. After the first movement which begins with the most sprightly woodwind gloriously recorded with excellent stabbing attack I found that the tension occasionally sagged. This is a pity because Johannes Fritzsch (the conductor) clearly took to the work with a Rozhdestvensky-like pleasure in the more energetic movements. The sardonic humour of the solo violin’s squeaking serenade is brilliantly caught suggesting a zany serenade of the mice. The Moderato is much more serious but a lot less concentrated and wayward. It wanders by some desolate place like Warlock’s Curlew. The Presto is vintage Shostakovich startlingly like a bellicose Malcolm Arnold with the orchestra skating and skittering like maddened squirrels. The black Largo reminded me of Bernard Herrmann’s fantasy film music. The final allegretto is knockabout fun.

The notes are in English and German. The recording quality is excellent.

Two concert performance recordings which never less than enjoyable and which in the case of the Concerto bid fair to be anyone’s library version. Let me commend the concerto to any collectors who, with me, rejoice in live concert recordings. Recommended in these terms.


Rob Barnett



and a further review from David Wright

Tchaikovsky has often been described as the composer of grand light music. When I first heard this concerto forty years ago I was taken by the slow movement, where there are extended passages for a piano trio, and it reminded me of the Palm Court Orchestra and Max Jaffa. To my mind, Tchaikovsky's finest works are not the ballets or the works with 'good tunes' but the operas, chamber music and particularly his exquisite songs. He did not write well for the piano (see my interview with Peter Katin) and it is a curious thing that his most popular works are not his best works. He was, however, very fluent resulting in his music sounding very 'natural'; but he was also a superb technician particularly in remote keys e.g. the Piano Concerto No 1 is in Bb minor and the mellow Quartet no 3 is in Eb minor.

The First Piano Concerto is structurally an enigma. It begins with four minutes of that 'big tune' which is never heard again. The Second Piano Concerto is more coherent and logical and demands a pianist of exceptional skill, virtuosity and warmth. But it is not just the right notes and tempo but an understanding of this unfolding drama. Boyde makes detail come to life; he has an amazing capacity to build up long piano solos thereby making them full of interest. His cadenzas are breathtaking and the clarity of his finger work is stunning. And, thankfully, he is not a barnstorming, glamorous, athletic performer, although he generates tremendous excitement. He has enviable lyrical gifts and I have to say that, bearing in mind that this is a public performance (where one does not get a 'second chance'), it is very impressive indeed. The orchestra and conductor must also be congratulated.

The slow movement can wallow into cheap sentimentality if a strict tempo is not observed. I once read a review that stated that Tchaikovsky was inspired to write this movement after hearing the slow movement of Brahms' cherished Double Concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote his work in 1880, Brahms in 1887! In this movement Boyde and Fritzch combine effectively to prevent the music deteriorating into cheap Johann Strauss confectionary. While the performers avoid these pitfalls they also capture the warm mellowness. We have music, not an indulgence in mawkishness. There are, however, moments of tender beauty and the pianists clever timing of his entries enhances the music's expectations.

The finale Allegro con fuoco is a brilliant tour de force. Many pianists who refuse to play this concerto stating that they do not like it, are hiding the truth that they cannot play it. And this is one reason why the work stayed on the shelf for a long time. I would have preferred a stronger attack in this movement but this is more than adequately compensated for by the sparkling clearness. Then, all of a sudden, the performance explodes - a marvellous moment - and the work rushes on to an exhilarating and ruthless conclusion.

I hope Boyde may consider performing Tchaikovsky's other fine piano and orchestra work, the Concert Fantasy of 1884 also in G major. Peter Katin's unrivalled performance with Boult is still available, fortunately.

Shostakovich Symphony No 9 is sometimes maligned for being 'lightweight' but as with the unsurpassed finale of his Symphony No 6, of which Fritz Reiner's version is, by far, still the best, Shostakovich introduces a burlesque sense of humour probably to counteract the repressive Stalin regime.

I was brought up on Mravinsky's performance and so, rightly or wrongly, I judge all performances by that. Perhaps Fritzch's performance may occasionally lack some finesse but when one considers the amazing detail he reveals and his excellent control and balance this seems insignificant. There are some superlative woodwind solos and the intonation throughout is remarkably secure but I found the tempi rather cautious.

The exemplary recording greatly aids the clarity of detail.


David Wright

Performances (concerto) (Shostakovich)



Rob Barnett



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