Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 [34:48]
Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a (arr. Mikhail Pletnev) [18:08]
Alexandra Dariescu (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Darrell Ang
rec. 2 August 2014, Henry Wood Hall, London (concerto); 22 June 2016, All Saints Church, Durham Road, London (suite)

This is a most comfortable performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. It does not try to fight battles, to strike dramatic poses or storm at the nearest barn, and if this is a war-horse, it is enjoying an untroubled graze in the balmy air of peacetime. Whatever others – and there have been legions of them – have done with the Concerto in the past, this partnership of two young up-and-coming figures on the world’s music stage brings a refreshing level of musical integrity and artistic poise to this most over-worked of all piano and orchestra interfaces.

I get to hear a lot of Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang in live concerts, and his unpretentious control and conscientious management of an orchestra are hallmarks which make any performance, in which he is involved, sound both polished and sure-footed. Here, in the recording studio, with one of the great orchestras of the world, we can recognise his strong musicianship too; this is not just intelligent shaping and balancing of an orchestra, nor even inspiring them to play their best, it is a fine example of a carefully prepared reading of a score, which is so often misrepresented in the name of tradition and preconception. In particular, I admire his balancing of the string and brass at the opening and the rich tone colours he draws from the RPO woodwind in the second movement, while his choice of tempi and his use of rubato to underpin the musical structure is refreshingly unforced. Here is a conductor, who does not try to stamp his mark on the big works of the repertory, but works to reveal the inner qualities, which he has identified through a deep study of the score.

Ang’s conscientious musicianship is the perfect match for Alexandra Dariescu’s unfussy and direct reading of the Tchaikovsky concerto. Her charming introductory note to this disc says all we need to know about her charm and modesty. And it’s as well she has written it, for it does seem mightily pretentious for a still young and emerging pianist to make her concerto debut on disc with what is probably the most recorded concerto of them all, and one which, in recording, she is up against all the great pianists in the history of the gramophone.

First thing to say is that she can hold her head proud alongside them. She copies none of them, apes none of the heroic gestures of the past, is utterly her own person in her performance, but exudes such charm, elegance and poise that one instantly warms to what is, at root, an interpretation which underplays the drama and emotion, obscures the technical prowess and virtuosity, all in the name of honest musicianship.

She takes Mikhail Pletnev’s transcription of the Nutcracker Suite as the CD’s filler, and while the transcription is not always convincing, she colours the sound through an infinite command of touch and superbly balanced dynamics so that the orchestral spirit emerges fully. She also portrays through precisely maintained tempi and a strong rhythmic underpinning, the music’s balletic origins.
This is one of those discs I feel I could listen to over and over again.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: Dan Morgan

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