> SHOSTAKOVICH Concertos Previn, Ma, Bernstein SMK89752 [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1933) *
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957) **
Cello Concerto No. 1 (1959) ***
* Andrê Previn (piano), William Vacchiano (trumpet), NYPO/Bernstein
** Leonard Bernstein (piano and conductor)/NYPO
*** Yo-Yo Ma (cello)/Philadelphia/Ormandy
Piano Concertos: rec 1960s ADD; Cello Concerto: 1980s DDD
SONY SMK 89752 [69.07]


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These stock versions of the piano concertos have been in harness many times over. From the age of the LP through to the compact disc you would rarely see one without the other. They share an orchestra and conductor but in the case of the Second Concerto Bernstein could not resist the dazzling limelight of the solo part while at the same time holding the ring with the orchestra. Control freak or not he pulled off the double (the only time it has happened on record?) with resounding panache and a shower of pianistic sparks. In my experience, and I have heard quite a few versions of No. 2 (List, Shostakovich, Alexeev - the latter the best sounding modern-ish version), no-one has equalled Bernstein's way with the keyboard. Listen to him in the resolve and adrenalin sprint of the last few minutes of the first movement. He is also generous with sentiment in the andante. The orchestra set things off adroitly at the very start with quickly stalking woodwind. The sound is not very refined and spotlighting is applied liberally by the CBS engineers. All the same this is, for this reviewer, a rosette recording against which others must be measured. Play this to those who need to be converted to classical music. Shostakovich proves that he can write accessibly and trounce a roomful of Kabalevskys and Khrennikovs at their own Soviet realist game.

The other two concertos are polar opposites from each other in essence and in technology. Both piano concertos were recorded in the 1960s when the CBS norm in ambient sound was one-dimensional but vivid to the point of magnesium glare. The Cello Concerto represents a much better and more natural balance. The First Piano Concerto is a work of stylistic collage - not completely convincing though brilliant enough. Julian Haylock, in his well written liner note, reminds us that, at the time of the premiere, Miaskovsky described the work as 'brilliant with philistinism'. Certainly the choice of André Previn is apt given his foothold in Broadway and film. The popular elements of vaudeville and jazz lie easily under Previn's fingers and Vacchiano lets loose with fruity lightning-quick satire. I have seen some criticism of the performance but any roughnesses there may be do not jar.

The Cello Concerto No. 1 from a couple of years after the Second Piano Concerto could not be more different. It is a harrowing and earnest work about which there is nothing of the knockabout circus. Yo-Yo Ma and Ormandy (in his last years) give a performance of considerable concentration. Theirs is a very cold world but even so my recollection of another recording - (CBS, I think) - one by Khomitser is that more could have been extracted from its pages.

Classic Shostakovich; irresistble in the case of the populist Second Concerto.

Rob Barnett

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