Back in my college days - when I was still "learning"
the repertoire more or less randomly, via the New York Public
Library's circulating record collection - I ran across a Hungaroton
LP of the Grieg and Ravel concerti with Jenö Jandó as soloist.
The sheer beauty of tone - not just from the pianist, but from
a warm, cushiony-sounding Hungarian orchestra - mesmerized me,
as did the apparent spontaneity and naturalness of Jandó's playing.
But, owing not least to the vagaries of Stateside record distribution,
I hadn't heard him since.
On this Naxos program, assembled from diverse originals,
Jandó continues to impress, twenty years down the pike. The
opening gesture of the piano concerto - straightforward, propulsive,
and firmly shaped, eschewing rhetorical posturing - tells us
what to expect throughout the concerto and, indeed, throughout
the recorded programme. Jandó, with virtuosity to spare, seems
simply, effortlessly to make beautiful music, untainted by mannerisms.
His consistently forthright attacks and full-bodied tone never
turn percussive: the biggest chords project with limpid clarity.
He maintains a surprisingly consistent pulse over long stretches,
relying on subtle adjustments of color and dynamics, rather
than imposed rubati, to inflect beautiful cantabile
phrases. The result is a cohesive interpretation reflecting
Schumann's "Florestan" and "Eusebius" as
divergent aspects of a single compositional personality, rather
than as a sort of musical schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, there are some exceptionable details. The
finale starts at an unusually dignified, restrained pace, but
the marching second subject lurches into the customary (faster)
tempo, producing a lop-sided relationship between the theme-groups.
And the reproduction is strange. It's odd to hear bits of the
orchestral accompaniment - including the first of the finale's
imperious horn calls (track 2, 8.18) - disappear more or less
into the ether. The piano isn't recorded that closely;
the entrance is dimly audible, so the players didn't miss it;
I suspect a section mike didn't get turned up in time. Thus,
for all the pianist's excellence, the concerto isn't up to the
rather formidable recorded competition.
The two Konzertstücke, on the other hand, still
don't appear with any frequency on disc, let alone in the concert
hall, so it's good to have them here, and, recorded in different
venues from the concerto, they don't suffer its erratic engineering.
Alexander Rahbari shapes the orchestral introduction to Op.
92 sensitively, though the horn tone is a touch raw, while Jandó,
as in similar passages in the concerto, properly takes a subordinate
role in the busy accompanying figures. The Allegro arrives with
nice forward impulse and momentum, at the cost of crispness
in the recurring triplet motif. In the home stretch, beginning
at 12.46, that horn is tuned noticeably sharp.
It's Op. 124 that sounds like the composition of stature
here. Jandó's contribution is once again outstanding, and the
Polish Radio forces under the underrated Antoni Wit sound involved
and alert. The woodwinds inflect their lyrical theme wistfully,
making its ultimate climactic build-up all the more surprising.
At Naxos prices, worth considering for the ostensible ‘fillers’.
see also Review
by John Phillips