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Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (b. 1913)
The Piano Concertos

Piano Concerto No. 1 (1932-33) [21:38]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1971) [16:20]
Piano Concerto No. 3 (1983) [20:03]
Tikhon Khrennikov (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov (1,2)
Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. No details given but presumably 1970s, 1980s, Moscow. ADD

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The Russian composer Tikhon Nikolayevich Khrennikov was born on 10 June 1913. He has written three symphonies, four piano concertos, two violin concertos, two cello concertos, operas, operettas, ballets, chamber music, incidental music and film music. He studied composition in Moscow with Shebalin and piano with Heinrich Neuhaus. His Piano Concerto No. 1 is a product of his student days. The Symphony No. 1 was his graduation exercise. His activities since 1948 as Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers drew down considerable wrath for his criticism of Miaskovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. He remained Secretary until the collapse of the USSR. In 2003 UNESCO awarded him the Mozart Medal.

You need to discard your neatly parcelled up preconceptions before hearing this disc. We are all so conditioned to expect dross from those condemned by the victor’s history. Whatever the rights and wrongs we would do well to listen to the music and forget the irrelevant ad hominem arguments. That’s why Robert Simpson’s BBC Radio 3 Innocent Ear programme was such a refreshing experience – in it he would play a piece without announcing what it was until the music was over.

The four movement First Concerto is a pretty early piece from heady times for the young student composer. Its combination of brusque muscular virtuosity partakes somewhat of the cut glass writing of Prokofiev in his later piano concertos. This is viscerally exciting writing which Shostakovich is perhaps parodying in the last movement of his Second Piano Concerto of 1960. There is a most poetic slow movement whose drum roll final note runs attacca into the detonation and propulsion of the Allegro third movement. The transition is bumpy and clipped on this recording. The finale’s peaceful introduction makes a deeply satisfying incision into steppe loneliness carolled out by clarinet and bassoon before more gripping virtuosity akin to the scherzo-adrenaline of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto and the piano concertos of Kabalevsky. However Khrennikov plies the listener with meditative romantic Miaskovsky-like asides amid the headlong assaults. The short Second Concerto is in a compact three movement form with the first dominated by an unflinching and hammered out romantic virtuosity from the pianist. This gives way to a quiet shuddering that ushers in the central Allegro con fuoco movement which is all scintillating virtuosity again somewhat in the manner we know by derivation from Shostakovich 2. Once again the transition from I to II is bumpy. The gawky grotesque humour of the Rondo Giocoso but topped off with some crystalline romance and strutted balletic bombast. It ends remarkably with the same shiver and shudder that ended the first movement. No resort is made to obvious heroic gesture. The Third Concerto opens with a sentimental theme over which the piano pounds out a coasting ‘remora’ or quasi-echo of that theme. The piano trips the gymnastic fantastic. The orchestra joins in with more cheerfulness than has been evident in the other two concertos. The movement ends with a wonderfully atmospheric shimmer and this time there is no bump before we enter the Miaskovskian soft romance of the Moderato. Soon though the emotional heat climbs through the effortful emphasis of the piano solo. This rises to an eruption of some brazen Soviet majesty and braying minatory brass. The trajectory of the music takes us back to the same music with which the movement began. The finale is bell-like and optimistic with a few stunningly brazen moments and spectacular work from the soloist. This concerto was recorded live. There are one or two coughs and well-merited applause at the close.

All three concertos were toured by the composer across the Soviet Union and his mastery as a soloist is patent.

The Fourth Concerto is available on Kapelmeister KAP 012.

The recording is extremely immediate with the orchestra placed very close – almost in the listener’s lap.

The extensive notes are in Russian and English – side by side. The print is rather small but do persist.

Perhaps you have been enjoying the Kabalevsky piano concerto series from Naxos or Russian Revelation or Chandos or the Shostakovich piano concertos on Sony or Hyperion or EMI Classics. If so and you would like to explore similar repertoire with some unusual and provocative turns then do try out this disc.

Rob Barnett

Other Khrennikov reviews on this site:-


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