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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 (1874/75) [34:43]
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 44 (1879/80) [35:59]
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. June/September 2012, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, U.K.
ONYX 4135 [70:52]

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) often invite Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski to play with them. I have seen them perform together a couple of times and their collaborations have always paid dividends.

One of the most famous concertos ever written, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was heavily criticised by pianist Nikolai Rubinstein who was to introduce the work. Hans von Bülow believed in the concerto and eventually gave the première in 1875 at Boston. Tchaikovsky revised the score in 1879 and again in 1888 which is the version usually heard and the one Trpčeski plays here. This is a well shaped account with plenty of tonal warmth. There is some especially sensitive and beautifully lyrical playing in the Andantino but disappointingly the Finale has little urgency and doesn’t have that joyous poetic quality contained in the finest accounts.

The much less performed Piano Concerto No. 2 enjoyed a rather different introduction and was premièred by soloist Madeline Schiller in 1881 in New York City. Alexander Siloti made some revisions including a cut to the opening movement and a more drastic cut to the Andante leaving the finale intact. Here Trpčeski has chosen to play Siloti’s revision to the Andante. Throughout there is much refined playing and considerable concentration. I enjoyed the distinctly fresh feel to the performance. Trpčeski is a thoughtful interpreter and in the Andante is all tenderness and sensitivity. Also in the Andante there is excellent playing from leader James Clark and principal cello Jonathan Aasgaard. As with the first concerto the Finale lacks the sparkling character of the finest recordings.

In both the first and second concertos Trpčeski has the benefit of the excellent support from the players of the RLPO under Petrenko.

The accounts of the first and second piano concertos that I consider the most compelling and rewarding are the re-mastered mono accounts played by Shura Cherkassky and the Berliner Philharmoniker. These compelling performances linger long in the memory and were recorded in 1955 with Leopold Ludwig (No. 1) and 1951 with Richard Kraus (No. 2) both at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin for Deutsche Grammophon. Of the digital era recordings, in the first piano concerto for its forthright and dramatic approach, I relish the stunning live 1994 Philharmonie, Berlin account from Martha Argerich and the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. In addition Argerich recorded another exceptional live account of the first concerto in 1980 in Munich with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Kirill Kondrashin on Philips.

Comparing these fine Trpčeski accounts to those above by Shura Cherkassky and Martha Argerich it soon becomes clear that Cherkassky and Argerich are in a totally different league where excellence and drama are concerned. Trpčeski’s accounts are nowhere near as big-boned and cannot maintain the same breathtaking level of emotional intensity as Cherkassky and Argerich. Recorded in 2012 at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool the warm sound quality provided for Trpčeski on Onyx being slightly cloudy is not as gratifying as I had expected. The recordings from Cherkassky on Deutsche Grammophon and Argerich on Philips and Deutsche Grammophon are vividly clear and well balanced with Cherkassky’s mono recordings being over sixty years old.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Simon Thompson

Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 1