Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Piano Concerto in a minor, op.16

Piano Concerto no.2 in f minor, op.21

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (pianoforte), Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Decca 467 093-2  [62' 22"]

The main assets of this issue are a pleasingly simple approach to the lyrical sections and a notably collaborative conductor. Hear the dialogue between piano and orchestra at the beginning of the development to the first movement of the Chopin and reflect that at one time Chopin's accompaniments were looked on as almost superfluous.

The problem is that in fortes Thibaudet's tone, while not exactly hard, doesn't quite sing either, and he also sometimes allows accompanying figures to become chunky and obtrusive. Sample the Chopin slow movement; the playing is very attractive indeed in pianos, a little less so as more tone is required, and the lumpiness of the left hand spoils the basically very musical idea Thibaudet has of the piece.

Or take the second subject of the Grieg first movement. It begins beautifully (very well prepared by Gergiev, too), but as it begins to surge forward the left-hand triplets are heavy-handed. Compare either Solomon or Curzon at this point to hear these triplets pulsating rather than chugging. Solomon's singing tone in fortes also points up Thibaudet's other weakness, and Curzon's performance should be studied by all pianists for his unique way of making his semiquavers glitter without obtruding on the melodic line.

Still, the Solomon and Curzon recordings, not to speak of the classic Lipatti, are hardly in modern sound, nor are their conductors (Menges and Fjeldstat) as good as Gergiev, and this is mostly an attractive affair. I was preparing to give it a fairly warm recommendation until I reached Thibaudet's distinctly unmercurial response to Chopin's national dance rhythms in his finale. After that, the most I can say is, if you particularly need this slightly unusual coupling, you will get reasonably effective accounts of the two works. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but the best is the enemy of the good and this isn't quite the best.

Nice notes by Jeremy Siepmann, with French and German translations.

Chris Howell



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