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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op.23 (1874/75) [36:20]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor Op.20 (1897) [28:58]
Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev
rec. 10-11 July 1993, CTS Studios, Wembley, United Kingdom

This CD was originally released as Hyperion CDA66680, and now appears as a top notch recording and performance at budget price on Hyperion’s ‘Helios’ label. 

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 is one of those pieces which has slipped in and out of my collection over the years. The one constant has been a lovely old LP copy of Sviatoslav Richter and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan from 1962. With very few minutes per side it has grooves like the guttering on a skittle alley and is a fine example of Deutsche Grammophon’s uncompromising attitude to quality over quantity. There are innumerable versions available on CD, notably with both Martha Agerich/Abbado and Lang Lang/Barenboim currently on DG, Mikhail Pletnev/Fedoseyev on Virgin and Emil Gilels/Reiner on RCA just to name a few heavyweight variants. With so many to chose from it seems almost pointless trying to pick and choose, and in the end Hyperion are making life easy for us by making such an engaging and involving recording accessible for less that the price of two pints of lager in a London pub. Demidenko’s technique is immaculate, and both his and that of Lazarev are muscular and athletic – pulling no punches in the first movement and the more skittish final Allegro con fuoco. The central Andante semplice has poetry and grace, and the whole thing is recorded with all the gloss and transparency one could hope for. This performance may possibly be lacking the last ounce of grandiose nobility or weighty heroism. However, you never get the feeling that there are any symbolic messages being over-emphasised, and I never felt I was missing anything either. 

The other really ascendant or transcendent star on this disc is a magical and gorgeously transparent recording of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F sharp minor. This was Scriabin’s first work to involve an orchestra, but the effortless dialogue between soloist and various sections and individuals from the orchestra show a natural feel for texture and the heightening of effect when piling on the emotional show for big tunes, or for the subtle touches of detail in numerous delightful counter-melodies. The matching of simplicity and waves of romantic splendour are well handled in the balance of this recording, so that things never seem to get stodgy. Worlds apart, Scriabin’s music was however recognised and respected by a forward looking composer such as Stravinsky, who no doubt identified a fellow individualist and warrior against bland conformity – the two in any case got on well enough when they met on a train journey not long before Scriabin’s untimely death. Scriabin’s idiom in this concerto is unashamedly romantic, but some colleagues such as Rimsky-Korsakov were less than enthusiastic. The work was generally well received elsewhere however, and a quick look in the current catalogue show it to be a fairly popular work, if not quite as universally accepted and over-exposed as the Tchaikovsky. Collectors concerned that this concerto will be as hard to digest as some of Scriabin’s later, more ‘transcendental’ works need have no fears; if anything the work shares more with the romanticism of Chopin, with a directness of utterance which is easy to follow and hard not to find attractive. 

With Ateş Orga’s informative original booklet notes included, this is a re-issue which ticks all the boxes on any scale of quality. Don’t be put off by the dismally muddy scene on the cover: these are colourful recordings of performances which can cure you of the need to seek out any other.

Dominy Clements



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