Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 (1875/1889) [35:48]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868) [30:45]
Simon Tedeschi (piano)
Queensland Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. Studio 420, Australian Broadcasting Company, Brisbane, February 2005
ABC CLASSICS 476 8071 [66:49]
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 slursí 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 1:21.
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, and journalist.
see also review by Glyn Pursglove
Despite some flaws, should please newcomers and veterans alike.