Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D flat major, Op. 10 (1911-12) [14:04]
10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75 (transcribed for piano by Prokofiev) (1937): II Scena [1:35]; IX Dance of Young Girls with Lilies [2:52] Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major (1929-30) [17:53] Pavane pour une infante défunte for piano (1899) [6:24]
Andrei Gavrilov (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
rec. 1977, Abbey Road Studios, London, UK WARNER CLASSICS 2564 611661 [43:01]
This disc was issued on the occasion of Sir Simon Rattle’s appointment as Music Director of the London Symphony beginning in September 2017. The brief insert note tells of Rattle’s London appointment and a summary of his career, mentioning that his concert debut with the LSO took place in October 1977. The recordings were made in July of that year and so pre-date his actual debut. Both he and pianist Andrei Gavrilov were born in the same year, 1955, and the disc by these “youngsters” went on to receive a Gramophone award in 1979. The contents of the CD are the same as those of the original release. Additional solo piano pieces of these composers performed by Gavrilov were issued separately, but in combination with either of the concertos, during the interim. According to the back of the disc case, this is the first time that the Romeo and Juliet excerpts have appeared on CD. With such short duration, there would have been plenty of room for the other solo works here. As it is, the listener is rewarded with the exact contents of the original LP and at super-budget price.
How do these performances stand up today with so many alternatives from which to choose? Quite well, I must say. Indeed, the Prokofiev concerto receives a blistering performance. Gavrilov and Rattle’s tempos are brisker than two other recordings with which I compared them: Ashkenazy with the LSO/Previn (Decca) and Argerich with the Montreal SO/Dutoit (EMI). Gavrilov and Rattle may lose some of the majesty that Ashkenazy and Previn find in the work, but make up for it in their sheer dynamism. This is young man’s Prokofiev, as it should be, and recorded fairly up close. Everything comes out crisp and clear, but with enough subtlety in the slow movement. There the piano’s balance with the orchestra is ideal, and one can really appreciate the muted trumpets and horns to a greater extent than in the other two recordings. They also do not overdo the movement’s climax, which with Ashkenazy/Previn sounds too Rachmaninov-like for my taste. Next to either of these interpretations, Argerich and Dutoit sound rather detached and soft-centred. Gavrilov’s Romeo and Juliet encores only confirm his affinity for Prokofiev. I would love to hear him in all ten of the pieces.
Ravel, on the other hand, does not seem to be as perfect a match for the pianist and conductor. There is really nothing wrong with their account of the Concerto for the Left Hand, but there are others who seem more idiomatic. My current favourite is Krystian Zimerman’s magisterial performance with Pierre Boulez and the LSO (DG). I also used Michel Béroff’s LSO account with Claudio Abbado (DG) for comparison. The fact that the three recordings have the same orchestra to accompany the pianist is notable. The orchestra performs well in all three, as do the pianists. However, Zimerman is not only more imposing than the others, but also finds a whole array of colours which, along with Boulez’s architectural approach to the score, places this account above most others. Béroff and Abbado seem particularly attuned to the jazz elements in the concerto, as do Gavrilov and Rattle, and both performances have an allure all their own. The latter’s recording is good, but weighted a trifle towards the treble, even if one can appreciate the instruments Ravel places in the depths of the orchestra. Maybe because Rattle was a percussionist the snare drum and wood block come through especially well on the recording. At any rate, I have no major qualms with their performance, but just prefer the others noted. The Pavane pour une infante défunte, on the other hand, receives a very heavy-handed and exaggerated interpretation from Gavrilov. It is not just slow, but really overdone and becomes vehement in the loud passages. It's not the best way to end this programme.
In summary, this CD remains a nice memento of Rattle’s early career and that of the young Gavrilov. Even with its parsimonious overall timing, it is worth keeping, at the very least for the Prokofiev. It is a pity, though, that more works by that composer were not included.