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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1933) [21.52]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957) [17.25]
Three Fantastic Dances (1922) [3.00]
Preludes and Fugues: Nos 1, 4, 5, 23, 24 (1948) [33.22]
Dmitri Shostakovich (piano)
Ludovic Vaillant (trumpet)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/André Cluytens
rec. mono Salle Wagram (concertos), unknown (piano solos), May, Oct 1958, ADD
Great Recordings of the Century series
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 62646 2 [76.05]

These recordings are extremely well known. Their last appearance, exactly as above, was in EMI's ‘Composer in Person’ series but they have been around for many years since the first issue of the concertos in the late 1950s. They radiate a great authority and are instructive in the seemingly eccentric tempo choices made. Especially in the First Concerto one is often brought up short by a surprising speeding up here or a slowing down there. There is of course a downside with this disc. The sound is late 1950s mono and the strings of the French orchestra are caught with a raw vinegary bile which some may find a problem. I don't; not even when that caustic edge adds further to the attack of Vaillant's viciously spitting trumpet.

The First Concerto's playfully sardonic gambols through the styles of Prokofiev, Gershwin, Stravinsky and Ravel are done without a wink or indulgent smile and are all the more effective for that. The composer and Vaillant tear through the finale like a twin fusillade of vitriol-laced hailstones.

The Second Concerto has long been a personal favourite. The concerto was premiered by the composer's son Maxim on 10 May 1957 on the day of Maxim's 19th birthday. The composer’s own account is up against many good versions. My favourites include Bernstein's on Sony, Alexeev on CfP and, most recently, the visceral Hamelin version on Hyperion. The composer's own account is fearfully exciting and is spat out with gritty attack. Despite the age of the recording the listener is left with a good sense of the open natural analogue ambience of the original. The sentimental second movement gently guys Rachmaninov. The succulent style was already familiar to Shostakovich for he had used it in his film scores.

I will not be letting go of my allegiance to Bernstein for the Second Concerto and the spanking new Hyperion disc but this CD is fascinating. It is a very special performance with historic ambience and is after all the most tumultuous of all versions. How many coffees and cigarettes must Cluytens and the composer have got through before getting to the stage of being able to record something this fast, sprint-rapped and furious; clearly a performance predating radar traps. By the way this is also a treat for those who love their piano sound to lean on the stonily brilliant rather than the softened and cushioned.

The short and, I thought, uncharacteristic Fantastic Dances (they are early) and the selection of five Preludes and Fugues make a good contrasting companion to the concertos. Of the Preludes and Fugues the classically staid No. 1 contrasts with the melancholy evident in No. 4, the classical delicacy-gone-haywire of No. 5, the serious majesty and complexity of No. 23 and the almost Handelian gravity emerging into regal urgency of No. 24.

This valuable and rewarding release is completed by David Fanning's valuable and honestly straightforward accessible notes.

Rob Barnett

Great Recordings of the Century - Full listing


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