Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35 (1933) [20:26]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102* (1957)
Concertino for two pianos, Op. 94 (1953) [8:53]
Tarantella for two pianos [1:21]
Anna Vinnitskaya, Ivan Rudin (pianos); Tobias Willner (trumpet)
Kremerata Baltica, Winds of Staatskapelle Dresden/*Omer Meir Wellber
rec. 2014, Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber, Dresden, Germany
Reviewed as a 24/48 download
Pdf booklet included ALPHA 203 [49:51]
I’ve been inordinately fond of these concertos
ever since I heard the classic Previn and Bernstein’s performances
from the 1960s (CBS/Sony).
Granted, they sound their age now, but I never tire of those artists'
scintillating way with these works. Even more impressive – and
in much better sound – is CfP’s recording with Dmitri Alexeev,
Jerzy Maksymiuk and the English Chamber Orchestra; that’s coupled
with a rousing performance of The Assault on Beautiful Gorky,
from The Unforgettable Year 1919 (review).
The fillers on this new Alpha release won’t blister paint at thirty
paces, but they’re fine examples of Shostakovich at his most easeful
The Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya, who also directs Op. 35 from the keyboard, is new to me. According to the liner-notes she played these concertos at the 2014 International Shostakovich Festival, set up by the Staatskapelle Dresden in 2010. The Concertino for Two Pianos was written for the composer’s fifteen-year-old son Maxim, who premiered it with a fellow student at the Moscow Central School of Music in 1953. It’s a delightful curiosity that’s easy on the ear, if not on the fingers; ditto the Tarantella from the 1955 film The Gadfly.
Given the success of Vinnitskaya’s Dresden concert it’s hardly surprising that the orchestra involved – made up of the Kremerata Baltica and the winds of the Staatskapelle Dresden – are retained for this recording. Seconds into the first concerto, for piano, strings and trumpet, and it’s clear that Vinnitskaya has the piece in her blood. Her bright, cleanly articulated pianism is just right for this highly animated Allegretto, although some may find Tobias Willner’s trumpet a little too distant at times. That said, the piano and strings are well caught and the sound is full and detailed.
The Lento is wonderfully inward, and the lower strings have
a richness and body that one seldom encounters in this piece. Vinnitskaya’s
gentle, pensive playing is a joy to hear, and as a conductor she scales
the concerto’s dynamics far more effectively than Gergiev does
in his Mariinsky recording with Denis Matsuev (review).
Indeed, the latter’s one of the most garish and ill-judged performances
of the piece I’ve ever heard. Admittedly the playing of Vinnitskaya’s
band is far from flawless – a consequence of being directed from
the keyboard, perhaps – but that hardly matters when the performance
is this beguiling.
The brief Moderato seems darker than usual, but Vinnitskaya’s
mercurial playing in the Allegro con brio soon lights up the
gloom. I do wish the trumpet had greater presence; also, Willner is
a tad tremulous at times. As excitable as he and Vinnitskaya undoubtedly
are in the closing bars they do at least avoid the self-seeking crudities
that ruin Gergiev and Matsuev’s finale. I still prefer Alexeev
and Maksymiuk in this concerto; indeed, that version has the exhilarating
edge and unfettered energy that rivals would kill for. Oh, and Philip
Jones’s trumpet playing (he of PJBE) is as thrilling as it gets.
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber directs a lively performance of the second
concerto, which was also written for and premiered by Maxim. Wellber’s
presence is felt in the taut orchestral playing and a consistency of
purpose. Vinnitskaya is fearless in the Allegro and the Dresden
winds add extra warmth to the proceedings. The Andante isn’t
as seamless as some, but it has a chamber-like transparency that I like
very much indeed. In fact I can’t recall a lovelier account of
this movement, or a livelier one of the next. Vinnitskaya’s pin-sharp
pianism is very impressive, although dynamic gradients are a tad precipitous
Her performance of the second concerto is the more satisfying of the
two, not least because she can focus on what she does best – playing
the piano. Ivan Rudin joins her in the Concertino, a piece
that the Bizjaks – Lidija and Sanja – included in their
recent collection of two-piano pieces (review).
The sisters shape and animate the music more persuasively than Vinnitskaya
and Rudin; still, there’s no denying the latter’s rhythmic
verve, both here and in the tiny Tarantella that follows.
This is a most enjoyable album, even if the performances don’t
supplant the best in the catalogue. Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert’s
accounts of the Concertino and Tarantella certainly
As for Tobias Niederschlag’s liner-notes they’re adequate
but not always accurate. For instance Maxim was fifteen when he premiered
the Concertino, not ten; also, just under 50 minutes of music
seems a little parsimonious. However, none of this diminishes Vinnitskaya’s
achievements here; in fact I'd be very happy to hear her in other concertos
- Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Khachaturian especially.
An entertaining collection, nicely played and recorded; Vinnitskaya is a pianist to watch.
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