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

I came to this disc with high hopes, but ended up feeling more than a little disappointed. After all, Petrenko has brought a very distinctive Russian sound to his tenure at Liverpool, and Trpčeski has a well established relationship with Tchaikovsky. That said, these concerto recordings are badly hampered by different things.
There are some good things in the first concerto, but it takes a while to get going and in the event there isn’t enough about it that’s distinctive enough to set it apart from the formidable competition. The big orchestral tutti of the opening is full of grandeur and bluster, but once things settle down into the main allegro there isn’t that much that catches fire. At times, in fact, it feels like a bit of a read-through, without much electricity or the sense of something special. Trpčeski’s playing is solid and perfectly fine, and he gets plenty of delicacy into the cadenza, which sits pleasingly alongside the big moments. Elsewhere his chemistry with the orchestra feels rather lacking. Things improve in the finale, which has plenty of sparkle and bounce, though Trpčeski allows the fistfuls of octaves in the coda to run away from him somewhat. They are best of all in the slow movement, which is delicately phrased and delicately played, with some beautiful piano turns and some gorgeously sensitive orchestral playing too.
Things initially look a lot better for the second concerto. This one feels more like the genuine article, and Trpčeski explains in the notes that it was this work in particular that inspired him to make the disc. For one thing, the orchestra seem genuinely involved. The opening tutti feels properly ebullient rather than ticking the boxes and they set up a gorgeous string shimmer before the first entry of the lyrical second theme. They then play this theme so lovingly that it is as if they are holding it up to the light to examine it from every beautiful angle. Trpčeski’s playing is more engaged, too, sounding much more responsive and engaged with the music. His cadenza is brilliant but, more importantly, deeply integrated into the work’s structure. It seems to overflow into the orchestra’s grandiose restatement of the first theme with a feeling of total naturalness, almost inevitability. That’s also testimony to the more successful way Petrenko holds the whole thing together. There is plenty of bounce and merrymaking in the finale, too, with some orchestral fireworks to match those bouncing off the keyboard.
However, they get an indelible black mark by option for the Siloti version of the slow movement. Despite Trpčeski’s rather feeble protestations in the booklet note, Siloti’s revision reduces this gorgeous movement to less than half of its length and almost entirely cuts the all-important solos for cello and violin that make it so distinctive. Robbing you of so much excellent music, as it does, there is really no excuse for this, and when so many other versions opt for the full version - which is much more rewarding, anyway - that was the final straw for me. Even if it were not for the outstanding competition from the likes of Stephen Hough or Denis Matsuev, I’d still cast this disc aside as being wanting.
Simon Thompson
Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 1