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Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)Piano Concerto No. 1 in bb Op. 23 (1874) [33.18]Piano Concerto No. 3 in Eb, Op. 75 (unfinished) (1893) [16.02]
Andante and Finale, Op. 79 (orchestrated 1897 Sergei TANEYEV ) (1893) [19.52]
Konstantin Scherbakov, pianoRussian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Recorded State TV and Radio Studio 5, Moscow, Russia, 17 March 2003
Notes in English and Deutsch.
also available: DVD-Audio 5.110051; SACD 6.110051 NAXOS 8.557257 [69.12]

Comparison Recordings of the Tchaikovsky concertos:
No. 1: Byron Janis, Herbert Menges, LSO [ADD] Mercury Living Presence 432 011-2
No. 3: Michael Ponti, Louis de Froment [ADD] Vox Box CDX 5024

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto wears a gold medal along with Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra for the best opening bars in an orchestral work from the late 19th Century. Bach won it for the 18th century for the Mass in b minor, Haydn got a silver medal for the Maria Theresa Symphony, and Beethoven won the gold in the early 19th Century for the Eroica Symphony (or maybe the Emperor Concerto). I wonder how many recordings of the Tchaikovsky work are never played past the first two dozen bars?

This is a fine recording of the First Concerto, opening bars and even thereafter. The balances are good, the orchestra plays beautifully, Scherbakov courageously attacks the ferocious cadenza in octaves in the first movement and gets almost all the notes. Almost nobody can get absolutely all the notes, however Byron Janis can and does. Obviously I don’t know exactly what people were thinking at the recording sessions, but this Third Concerto sounds to me like a careful once-through after all the time available for rehearsals and retakes had been used up for the First Concerto. Whatever the cause, the Third Concerto is played off correctly, but uninterestingly. That’s a shame, because it’s a very interesting work in its own right. Considering how sick we all are of the First Concerto, at any given time, I’d rather hear the Third. In 1892 Tchaikovsky sketched his Seventh Symphony, then had second thoughts about the sound, so he rescored the first movement as his one-movement Third Piano Concerto, Op 75. Then he thought seriously about rescoring two later movements from the failed Seventh Symphony as an additional two movements for the Third Concerto. Then he died. Sergei Taneyev obliged his departed friend and produced an orchestrated Op. 79 which allowed a three movement version of the Tchaikovsky Third Concerto to be performed. Eugene Ormandy and Neeme Järvi both recorded a completed orchestral version of the Seventh Symphony and any Tchaikovsky lover will want to hear that as well.

Tchaikovsky said people should play his music as though it were by Mozart. Almost everyone thinks he was joking, but what he was trying to say was don’t over do the passion, there is enough of it in the notes themselves. Play the notes carefully and with grace and the passions will take care of themselves. Janis and Menges were among the first to do that for the First Concerto* and the result is my choice of the perfect recording of this work. I’ve always despised the GREAT VAN CLIBURN RECORDING perhaps for the same reason the audience loved it: it’s a gross overstatement of things that don’t need to be overstated.

The indefatigable Michael Ponti who, along with Alfred Brendel, earned our gratitude for making hundreds of First LP Recordings of deserving piano works produced what may still be the best recorded version of Tchaikovsky’s Third Concerto. If not, it’s certainly the least expensive and deserves to be in any music lover’s collection, at least until something better comes along.

The sound of this release is very good, transparency, dynamic range, and frequency response being good but not the best this label is capable of on CD. I have not had the opportunity of hearing the SACD or the DVD-Audio, however if the sound of recent recordings on this label from these artists is any guide, the DVD-Audio version of this recording may tip the balance to make it a virtual must-have. A very good performance in stupendously great sound can become an overwhelming musical experience.

*in stereo. The Scherchen/Farnadi version on monophonic Westminster LP, however excellent the orchestral presentation and artistic collaboration, was doomed to obscurity by critical hostility directed at Ms. Farnadi’s unassertive pianism.

Paul Shoemaker

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