These two concertos, particularly the Grieg, are no strangers to the recorded catalogue, but their coupling together is unusual. For the more casual collector who wishes to avoid duplications of repertoire this may or may not have implications but for those who believe that the best performance of a masterwork is always ‘the next one’ it is less of an issue.
Grieg wrote his concerto in his early twenties and though he composed fine music for the rest of his life, he never surpassed this achievement. He even made some minor alterations to the score during the last year of his life. The number of performances and recordings provides testimony to the qualities of this enduring masterpiece. Lugansky, Nagano and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin bring a directness and freshness to the score which is altogether rewarding. The opening is stirring and if the tempo adopted for the first movement is slower than some, that is not in the least a problem, it is a valid response to the score. Details emerge in the texture that bring great reward to the listener, for example the way in which the solo horn and the piano craft a beautifully judged melodic line together. The solo cello makes a pleasing impression at the beginning of the central slow movement, and here the advantages of the Jesus-Christus Kirche in Berlin can be felt in the warm atmosphere of the acoustic. No wonder this has proved such a popular recording venue over the years. Lugansky's sensitively drawn phrasing and touch are beautifully captured too, whereas in the finale his virtuosity leads to the most dramatic of perorations.
If anything the Prokofiev performance is finer still, and the recorded sound is superlative in bringing out detail and in sheer impact. Lugansky is possessed of the superlative technique that this concerto demands. In this it recalls the great recorded performance of Martha Argerich with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, but with the added benefit of even finer sound. In due course Prokofiev came to regard this as the best of his five piano concertos. It is surely significant that he chose to include it in his Moscow concert in January 1927, the concert which marked his return to Russia. Both sides of his musical personality are represented to telling effect, since the concerto incorporates lyricism as well as rhythmic energy.
Previous review: Michael Cookson
Masterwork Index: Grieg piano concerto