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Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Tempest, Symphonic Fantasy, Op.18* [21:38]
Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 23 [36.32]
Joyce Yang (piano)
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev
rec. live, November 2013*; December 2011, Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense, Denmark.
BRIDGE 9410 [58:10]

I suppose we should no longer be surprised when a supposedly provincial orchestra such as this from Denmark's third city produces a recording of such quality. Certainly I can hear no deficiency in any department and the sonics here are so clear that were there any in two live performances such as these, they would be immediately apparent. The concerts are directed by a very experienced Russian conductor who has spent a lot of time in the UK working with British orchestras and has a long-standing arrangement with the Odense Symphony as their most frequent guest conductor. The young, Juilliard-trained Korean pianist Joyce Yang joins them for the concerto. It is a fine performance, although given the number of first-rate recordings of that warhorse now available, I am most attracted to this recording by the superb performance of The Tempest. It is the least played of Tchaikovsky's symphonic poems after Hamlet and although I can understand why the latter is neglected, I am never sure why The Tempest should share that fate.

I am predisposed to like any music inspired by Shakespeare and find that Tchaikovsky has indeed captured some of the metaphysical grandeur of the play. There is another recording of the work by Svetlanov on the super-bargain Regis label but this one from Bridge is subtler and in better sound. The opening is as arresting as any sea music I know, standing comparison for atmosphere with works by Mendelssohn, Debussy, Sibelius and Bax and sharing some of the tricks they employ to suggest the majesty of the ocean. A favourite device is to use a repetitive, keening motif to evoke the endless swell of waves. Tchaikovsky creates magic and mystery with an ostinato figure on divisi strings which modulates through a succession of keys, creating a misty wash of sound suggestive of air and space. The succeeding stern brass motif representing Prospero is beautifully played and all in all the Odense players give a real virtuoso display.

The concerto is equally skilfully performed, although the big-boned opening is not complemented by Yang's gentler, more under-stated execution of the famous crashing chords which form the first "Big Tune" subject and are never heard again. Perhaps she is intent upon avoiding the Big Beast approach of such as Pogorelich or Van Cliburn, but there is no lack of energy or attack in her playing subsequently. She is wonderfully fluent and very delicate in the Andante, the Odense flute, oboe and viola soloists ably supporting her, in perfect harmony with her poetic demeanour. She concludes with a confident, rollicking Prestissimo to cap a very satisfying performance, unmarred by audience noise and only very lightly punctuated by the occasional emphatic grunt and groan from the pianist.

This is slightly short measure at under an hour but the quality of the playing and engineering disarms complaint.
Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Tchaikovsky piano concerto 1