This disc preserves in the Athene label’s “Outstanding Concert
Performance Series” a live program presented by the Freiburg
Philharmonic Orchestra on 13 and 14 January, 1997. The back
cover finds the concerto soloist, pianist Andreas Boyde, earning
a much bigger, bolder credit than either orchestra or conductor
(Johannes Fritzsch). A listen to the album reveals why: Boyde’s
pianism is very much worthy of preservation on disc, the playing
of the Freiburg Philharmonic less so.
Boyde and Fritzsch opt for a totally uncut of edition Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Concerto No 2, and the performance is a great pleasure.
Boyde sometimes missteps in his handling of the concerto’s ferocious
runs, but no more so than Jerome Lowenthal did in his recently
re-issued studio recordings, and at any rate Boyde’s playing
is consistently enjoyable: he executes the gigantic first movement
cadenza with flair, plays the second subject with touching subtlety,
and makes an effective, low-key partner in the slow movement,
with its extensive solos for violin and cello.
The lack of cuts is surely an attraction here: the slow movement,
restored to its original length, has been recorded to my knowledge
only by Lowenthal and Stephen Hough, in his new Hyperion traversal
of all three concertos. Konstantin Scherbakov’s excellent Naxos
reading removes about thirty seconds of material for what has
traditionally been considered a more concise ending; older interpreters
like Emil Gilels excise half the movement, thus gutting one
of Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful creations! Preferences for recordings
of this concerto; Scherbakov’s account is fiery and explosive,
with keyboard-rattling virtuosity, while Boyde is polished,
laid-back, but never lazy. I have yet to hear the Hough account,
but it sounds even faster and more furious than Scherbakov’s.
The Shostakovich Ninth Symphony finds Johannes Fritzsch and
his orchestra on their own, and trouble sets in rapidly. Fritzsch’s
one eccentricity is a fondness for slow tempos in the opening
bars of individual movements; for two seconds, the opening of
the Ninth - with steely, unpleasant violins - warns of a dull,
interminable reading before an accelerando brings us up to pace.
The same trick is used in the scherzo, though sadly not in finale,
the one movement where it works well, as Vasily Petrenko’s recent
recording from Liverpool proved.
The main problem with this reading, though, is the Freiburg
Philharmonic. Intonation is dodgy, solos are botched in every
movement, and the ensemble is not always playing in unison.
The violins can’t keep together in the opening allegro (1:20),
and the violin solo in that movement is cringe-worthy (4:24),
the brass are out of sync almost permanently in the fourth movement,
and the trumpeter lets out a hair-raising yowl at 1:10 in the
scherzo. In the finale, the oboist’s solo begins promisingly
but ends in screeches, and the violins misplay their way into
more unintentional dissonances. Only the principal trombonist
(assertive) and bassoonist (extremely cool under pressure) emerge
with pride intact.
For live performances, the sound quality is not bad, although
coughing pock-marks the Shostakovich slow movements; the sound
certainly is clear enough to make the Freiburg Philharmonic’s
ample intonation issues evident. A full minute of applause follows
each work, and the back cover amusingly gives the copyright
date as 2020. (It also, incredibly, misspells “Freiburg.”) I
do like the program, with its interesting contrast between romantic
splendor and neo-classical sarcasm, and were it better-executed
this would be an excellent disc. But the Freiburg Philharmonic
poses too great a challenge to the listener. Every time I really
started to smile and feel drawn into the music, a solo trumpet
or violin would produce such a jarring discord as to make me
jump. A pity, really. I’m sure those involved in this release
meant well, but some concerts deserve preservation for posterity,
and some concerts do not. This one did not.
see also reviews by David
Wright and Rob Barnett (two reviews: first,