The Polish pianist and composer André Tchaikowsky made a combined total of only ten records for RCA Victor and Columbia, all at the start of his career. His difficult, uncooperative and, at times, abrasive personality alienated him from conductors and record producers alike. His concert career, especially in the States, similarly suffered as a result of his unconventional behaviour. His dislike of the social mores of the concert-giving circuit, and especially the patronage of the arts in America at the time by rich socialite ladies, is well-documented.
Tchaikowsky died from colon cancer at the age of forty-six in 1982 and CD reissues of his recordings
have been rare. Dante, the now defunct French CD label, issued five volumes of the complete Columbia (EMI) recordings in 1996 as part of their Historical Piano Collection (HPC) series. An outstanding series, there’s an excellent Bach Goldberg Variations
and a fine selection of Chopin Mazurkas as well as Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. The RCA recordings, unfortunately, have had no such advocates for CD reissue until recently. So die-hard fans, like myself, will be delighted at this release by Alain Deguernel’s Forgotten Records of the pianist’s Chopin, Ravel and Prokofiev recordings made for the company in the late fifties (FR998/9). Tchaikowsky’s RCA Mozart recordings, from around the same time, were also issued by Forgotten Records (FR680) a while back, which I favourably reviewed
It is regrettable that Tchaikowsky didn’t set down the complete set of Chopin Preludes, but the ten we do have are idiomatic and well-characterized. To each he brings a wealth of imagination and flair, and the more virtuosic ones (8, 19, 24) are dispatched with panache and flair. The only disappointment is no 4: I would have preferred more of the poetry one finds in Cortot’s reading.
There is a freshness and spontaneity in the remaining Chopin items, with the pianist proving himself a sympathetic interpreter of his fellow countryman’s music. The Mazurkas are elegant and restrained with tastefully judged rubato. The Barcarolle and Ballade are inspired readings and intelligently constructed performances which stand alongside the best.
The highlight of the set for me is Gaspard de la Nuit
. Ravel’s masterpiece, composed 1908 and based on poems by Aloysius Bertrand, is certainly one of the most technically demanding works in the piano repertoire. Tchaikowsky summons up all of his resources to deliver a performance of epic proportions. He gets to the very heart of each of the three pieces of this triptych. Ondine
is mischievous and seductive. In Le Gibet
he evokes an atmosphere of menace and suspense. There a real feeling of portent about the whole thing. Scarbo
has energy, drive and vigour, all achieved with superb technical command. Tchaikowsky is well attuned to this impressionistic music and his control of dynamics, phrasing and achievement of layers of colour make this one of the most compelling accounts I have heard. I would rank it alongside my favourite version by Pogorelich.
Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives
were composed 1915-17. All short pieces, the average length of each is one minute. The inspiration came from the Russian Symbolist Konstantin Balmont ‘In every fleeting vision I see worlds / Filled with the changing play of rainbows.’ These twenty pieces explore a vast expressive range from the gentle and lilting to the violent and more declamatory. Tchaikowsky captures the changing moods with imaginative insight and a myriad palette of colour.
This release is a welcome addition to the sparse CD discography of this largely forgotten pianist. Alain Deguernel has done a sterling job with his source copies of RCA LSC LPs. Sound quality is first class and the acoustic and ambience is sympathetic to detail. There is no documentation but relevant websites are given. The excellent André Tchaikowsky website
offers a valuable resource for those wishing to explore further.