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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1841-45) [31:34]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op.33 (1876-1882, published 1883 version) [38:56]
Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek
rec. December 2012, live, Barbican Centre (Schumann) and November 2012, BBC Maida Vale Studios (Dvorak)
NAIVE V 5327 [70:27]

The Dvořák Piano Concerto will never become a repertoire piece, but it is increasingly clear that the so-called original version is gaining ground on the Vilém Kurz revision still played by many. In a sense one has to qualify this still further. The true original 1876 version was in fact ‘simple in conception’ according to a contemporary witness, as regards the piano part. Revised and published in 1883 the concerto now sported shortened outer movements, had been re-orchestrated and had a much more demanding piano part. In terms of recordings all followed Kurz’s twentieth century revisions, albeit Rudolf Firkušný, who recorded it multiply and was greatly associated with it, did record a composite of his own work and that of Kurz, and then played the original. It wasn’t until Richter recorded the 1883 version with Carlos Kleiber, that we heard that earlier version on disc. Still, and thinking out loud, it might be entertaining one time to hear Dvořák’s very first thoughts on the matter, should the sketches exist.
Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi now appears with his recording of the 1883 edition, accompanied by Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony in Studio 1, Maida Vale in London in November 2012. What a splendid job they make of it. It’s a performance full of vivid imagery, refined lyric tracery and dancing rhythms. Some teasing pianistic rubati - faithfully followed by the conductor - ensure that nothing is metrical, and that the wind tapestry in particular sounds authentically Czech, notably the high wind writing - something that’s very noticeable in the lovely slow movement. The piano is firmly centre stage in the sound spectrum but I don’t find that disadvantageous, given that counter-themes are always audible. Note the passing reference to Vltava in the orchestral wiring in the central movement as the piano trills and vaunts above it. The witty shape-shifting fugal feint at the start of the finale launches plenty of brio and charm.
I think I prefer the level of energy and aural conviction in this performance more than the otherwise fine Martin Helmchen performance with Marc Albrecht on Pentatone [PTC5186 333]. Bělohlávek has recorded the concerto several times but - so far as I’m aware - only in the Kurz edition. His Supraphon with Ivan Moravec [SU 3965-2] is probably the most recommendable. You need to go back to Maxián and Talich [SU 3825-2] for the first great recording of the Kurz edition - though Clough and Cuming’s ‘The World’s Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music’ notes an even earlier (pre-war? Wartime?) Berlin 78 set by pianist Willi Stech and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.
The coupling in this disc is the ubiquitous Schumann Concerto recorded live in concert at the Barbican in London in December 2012. The tenor of the reading is relaxed, but the conductor is adept enough to ensure that the orchestral tapestry accommodates Piemontesi’s approach. This is precisely the coupling that Helmchen plays and his traversal is just a bit faster and even more rugged than the Swiss player’s more refined and longitudinal approach. You won’t be buying this disc for the Schumann, almost certainly, but if you buy it for the Dvořák you’ll hear a measured, unshowy and pleasing Schumann concerto performance.
If you are keen to hear the Dvořák original - or maybe it’s better to say ‘Original, mark II’ - then go for this Naive release which comes complete with excellent notes by Ludmila šmidová.
Jonathan Woolf
Masterwork Index: Schumann piano concerto