The duplication of core repertoire has become a risky proposition,
commercially. How can all these Tchaikovsky or Grieg concertos
possibly claim a decent market share? For a critic, though,
or an aficionado, it isn't altogether bad. Certainly it's easier
to get the measure of a new or unfamiliar artist of potential
strengths and weaknesses, and of the artist's overall persona
in a well-known concerto than in, say, the Montsalvatge. In
fact, the record industry's recent retrenchments have arguably
benefited these repertoire standards, because the artists who
choose them are really committed to them; we don't have to sit
through pro forma accounts by virtuosos whose minds and
fingers would rather be elsewhere. This is, I believe, the fourth
Grieg A minor I've reviewed here; each partnership has brought
something new to the piece, so it stays fresh.
The Australian pianist, Simon Tedeschi, has appeared in concert
and recital throughout Australia and worldwide, taking various
awards and honours along the way. Just twenty-six at the time
of this recording, equipped with all the basic technical artillery,
he already projects a distinctive "take" on these
familiar concertos, making musical points with fresh attention
to details of stress and articulation.
Thus, in the Tchaikovsky, following a suitably grand introduction,
Tedeschi takes care to accent the first of the two notes
in all the little slurs’ in many other renditions it's easy
to hear the reverse. He maintains that pattern audibly through
the development. The clear placing of the dissonances on the
beat fosters an instability that propels the music forward.
In the coda of the movement, even through the orchestral din,
the pianist manages to project a shape, complete with off-the-beat
accents, among the ungrateful chordal figurations.
Tedeschi treats the Andantino semplice with an understated
simplicity that lets its singing quality emerge. Some will miss
the usual melodic expansion towards the end of the semiquaver
chords, but it's hard to argue with the logic of keeping them
steady, as a conductor might. The Prestissimo has a nice
scherzando lightness. In the rousing finale, at the end
of the climactic statement, Tedeschi and Bonynge eschew the
traditional but unmarked acceleration into the coda; the abrupt,
rather than gradual, tempo change further ratchets up the intensity.
A bit earlier, at 4:03, Tedeschi launches the scalar passagework
with a dexterity that recalls Rubinstein, without the latter's
impolite racing - on his RCA recording with Leinsdorf, at least.
A slightly measured tempo lends the first movement of the Grieg
concerto a reflective cast. The second theme, set up with a
broad rallentando, sounds unusually somber both times
around. It allows the soloist to give the scampering rhythms
some point. Note the subtle, but clear, variety of articulations
in the triplet chords at 3:47, and the thoughtful cadenza, with
its fetching diminuendo at 12:24. In the Adagio, Tedeschi
and Bonynge again launch the recap forthrightly, without the
customary, almost reflexive agogics. In the finale, the pianist
favors a very clipped reading of the chorale-like fragment
At the podium, Richard Bonynge seems an unlikely choice for
big Romantic concertos but his conducting did gain in energy
over time, and that energy comes in handy here. There are a
few iffy moments: the little woodwind squibs at 1:54 of Tchaikovsky's
finale fall way behind, though the engineers do their
best to bury them behind the piano. The opening wind attack
of Grieg's finale is tentative. A thickening of the textures
in one or two passages suggests approximate co-ordination. Otherwise,
things are mostly shipshape. Bonynge, oddly, misses some opportunities
in the lyric themes. In Tchaikovsky's first movement at 7:17,
for example, the violins inflect the third theme tenderly, but
the horns sit on their after-beats, and the real elegance with
which the conductor might, long ago, have turned a similar phrase
in a ballet recording is missing. Still, his podium leadership
is generally stylish. The Queensland Symphony responds enthusiastically.
Bonynge isn't afraid to unleash the brasses at key moments and
the sound reproduces with depth.
These performances, despite some flaws, should please newcomers
and veteran listeners alike.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,
see also review by Glyn