Presumably Mikhail Pletnev is meant to be the "draw" here,
but I didn't quite hear it that way. Both the ringing, weighted
chords and the pingy, articulate filigree are evidence of the
young pianist's already formidable virtuosity, but he doesn't
seem to bring much to the F-sharp minor concerto beyond that.
Were this not a "free-standing" recording - not made
simply to complete a cycle - I'd have guessed that this score
didn't particularly interest Pletnev; in any event, his performance
didn't particularly interest me
At least the score gets the advocacy it deserves from the podium,
courtesy of the respected but underrated Libor Pešek, whose
shipshape accompaniment rises to real distinction in the lyrical
passages. I rather liked the way he "leans" expressively
into the first movement's second theme without turning it heavy
or sentimental, for example, and the dark, vibrant tone and shapely
tapering of the analogous theme in the finale.
Cécile Ousset does a rather more interesting job with
the blockbuster Third Concerto. If you subscribe to gender stereotypes,
you'll think her treatment of some of the filigree - as early
as 0:55 of the first movement - is "feminine", making
the space to articulate each note within the overall running
shape, eschewing the customary hurtling momentum. In other such
passages, however, she conjures up the expected "witch's
cauldron," and most effectively. She also fills out the
big chords with massive, ringing tone - the finale's first subject,
in fact, verges on the clangorous, while her rendition of the "choppy" version
of the second theme thumps a bit. But her accomplished performance
yields little - in musicality, style, or scale - to those of
the male weightlifters.
Günther Herbig elicits a homogenized orchestral blend -
similar to the sound of his Central European orchestras - from
the Philharmonia, against which he draws the important motifs
in clear relief. At the same time, he's attuned to the nervous,
obsessive-compulsive strain that dominates much of this score,
providing much of its forward impulse.
At budget prices, the conducting makes this a worthwhile acquisition,
though if you're looking specifically for the F-sharp minor concerto,
I'd go with Ashkenazy (Decca), from his 1970s cycle with André Previn
and the LSO.
Stephen Francis Vasta