Listening to this disc is rather like eating an oyster – you’ll
either love the experience or you’ll hate it.
let’s get clear what this hitherto unknown “fifth piano concerto”
isn’t. It’s not an exercise on the lines of, for example,
Semyon Bogatyriev’s reconstruction of Tchaikovsky’s abandoned
“seventh symphony”. In that case, we know that, until he gave
up on it in 1892, the composer definitely intended there to
be such a symphony and that, with greater or lesser degrees
of certainty, the surviving materials used by Bogatyriev recreated
something that Tchaikovsky himself might, indeed, have gone
on to produce.
regard to this new recording, on the other hand, there is not
a scrap of evidence that Rachmaninoff ever thought of using
the music of his most popular symphony as the basis of a piano
concerto and its origins lie entirely in the imagination of
one man. In the comprehensive booklet notes, Pieter van Winkel
describes how, at Christmas 2000, “listening to the symphony,
I heard, I kept fancying, a piano. What a pity – such beautiful
music but not for the piano! I have nothing against the score
as such … Yet … yet isn’t something missing? Listening to it
with other ears, I imagined what it would be like with a concert-grand
– and I thought, goodness, this could really work.”.
at that point van Winkel’s old piano teacher, “leonine and bearded”
- as the booklet graphically but gratuitously informs us - Soviet
émigré Alexander Warenberg, who, forced to abandon public performing
by an arm injury, now works mainly as a composer and arranger
for films and television. Apart from their prior acquaintance,
one can see why van Winkel – recalling, quite possibly, the
superbly effective use of Rachmaninoff’s second concerto in
the classic David Lean movie Brief Encounter – might
well have turned to such a man to rearrange the lushly romantic
second symphony as a concertante work.
he tells us in the booklet notes, in taking up his friend van
Winkel’s idea Warenberg eschewed the virtuoso - one is tempted
to say “leonine” - approach to Rachmaninoff that spotlights
the piano part at the expense of the orchestra. “There’s neither
the first or second priority”, he argues, “just first and first.
A dialogue between the … equal partners. Give and take.”.
that musically egalitarian approach in mind, Warenberg went
ahead with his revisions, helped, he tells us, by conceiving
the new piece - for no particular reason that I can understand
- as a three act/movement “kind of opera” based on the story
of Ruslan and Ludmila. Thus, he excised more than four-fifths
of the symphony’s scherzo and, by amalgamating the remainder
with material from the adagio, created a new middle movement.
About a third of the symphony’s finale was also jettisoned so
as to create a tighter and more effectively emotional climax
to the concerto’s finale.
well as modifying what he estimates as about 40% of Rachmaninoff’s
original orchestration, Warenberg also changed many of the score’s
harmonies (“I felt it necessary to improve the sound and balance”)
and, indeed, occasionally added – though both briefly and generally
sympathetically – some entirely original material.
enough, the booklet notes imply that soloist Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy
sees the whole project rather differently. He chooses to distance
the new concerto further from the original Rachmaninoff, believing
that it will prove most convincing to those listeners without
any prior knowledge at all of the symphony. His conception
is of “a new piano concerto, with so much of the universe
of Rachmaninoff’s genius in it, plus a lot of effective, brilliant
new Warenberg ‘inventions’… A ‘Warenberg concerto’ that’s
neither Rachmaninoff concerto nor Rachmaninoff symphony”
though I’m personally inclined to think that he is somewhat
misguided on that particular point, Schmitt-Leonardy gives a
spirited and entirely convincing performance that is very much
of the “equal partners” school. He is clearly entirely at home
with the material and all its much-loved characteristics – displaying
glittering finger-work, ruminative introspection, high drama
and sweeping romanticism as required.
Ostrava-based Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra – more usually
associated with contemporary music – also plays with verve and
élan, particularly relishing those moments where some striking
new element of orchestration, such as the addition of chimes
towards the end of the last movement, takes their fancy. Conductor
Theodore Kuchar – well known for his recordings with the National
Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine on the Naxos and Marco Polo labels
– throws himself into the whole enterprise with equal enthusiasm
and considerable expertise.
that this is the only recording of the work to date, comparisons
are impossible – and if, as I suspect, the “fifth piano concerto”
becomes a mere curiosity, that is likely to remain the case.
Nonetheless, the very personal involvement of the (re)creators
of the score makes it difficult to see how this performance
could be any more authentic.
recordings of any “new” composition, booklet notes are particularly
important and those here – with specific and most interesting
contributions from Pieter van Winkel, Alexander Warenberg and
Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, as well as more general material –
are first class.
only quibble is, in fact, the CD’s overall running time of less
than 43 minutes, though it is, admittedly, somewhat difficult
to imagine what might have been appropriately included to fill
out the disc to a more acceptable duration.
the way, just in case you’re wondering … I hate oysters – but
I loved this disc!