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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1845) [30.21]
Jenö Jandó (piano)
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/András Ligeti
Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92 (1849) [14.21]
Jenö Jandó (piano)
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Introduction and Allegro, Op. 134 (1853) [14.45]
Jenö Jandó (piano)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Italian Institute, Budapest, 1-6 March 1988 (Concerto); Concert Hall of the Belgian Radio and Television, Brussels, 3-4 June 1992 (Op. 92); Katowice, Poland, 21-23 August 1996 (Op. 134)
NAXOS 8.557547 [59.27]


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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’.

Stephen Francis Vasta

see also Review by John Phillips




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