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Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1933) [23.23]
Waltz from String Quartet No. 2 (1944, arr. Giltburg for solo piano 2016) [5.56]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957) [19.59]
String Quartet No. 8 (1960, arr. Giltburg for solo piano 2015) [20.28]
Boris Giltburg (piano)
Rhys Owens (trumpet)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. January 2016 (concertos), Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool; June 2016 (arrangements) Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, United Kingdom
NAXOS 8.573666 [69.47]

On this Naxos release of the Shostakovich Piano Concertos No’s 1 and 2 Russian/Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg is joined by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko. A great admirer of the music of Shostakovich, Moscow-born Giltburg is also playing here a pair of his own solo piano arrangements of String Quartet No. 8 and the waltz movement from String Quartet No. 2.

The author of a 1983 booklet note for the release of the pair of Shostakovich piano concertos played by Dmitri Alexeev on CFP stated that only in recent years has the general music lover been able to appreciate the composer’s wide scope of works. Now, some thirty years later there has been a sea change; following glasnost, perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union the music of Shostakovich has become a staple of concert hall programmes and recordings are just as prevalent.

Composed some twenty-four years apart the two piano concertos have become established as much-loved works in the concert hall. With its sense of riotous enjoyment the four-movement First Concerto scored for piano, trumpet and string orchestra may have been written in the shadow of the oppressive Soviet regime that prevailed but its mood certainly doesn’t reflect the dark terror of those times. In Giltburg’s performance notable is the energetic and often exhilarating placing of the free spirited opening movement. The following Lento is given intensely affecting playing that creates a cool, dark, near sinister quality. Rhys Owens in the trumpet part excels with brilliant playing, displaying a lovely burnished tone.

Written in 1957 four years after the death of Stalin the Second Piano Concerto was a birthday present for Shostakovich’s nineteen-year-old son Maxim, a wistful score with its gloriously romantic second movement. Maybe written in hope of the positive effect from de-Stalinisation policies under Nikita Khrushchev the work is uninhibited joy from the first note to the last. Markedly, the expressive Giltburg revels in the good humoured and mainly buoyant writing of the opening Allegro and the renowned slow movement is as affecting as I have heard.

Creating an abundance of colour and sparkle Giltburg’s playing throughout is lucid, unaffected and perfectly attuned to the mood of the writing. Under Saint Petersburg- born Vasily Petrenko one can often detect a distinct Russian character to the rich, robust and round orchestral sound of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. As I have come to expect from this excellent orchestra the brass and woodwind sections play with particular credit. Good quality sound from the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool is especially clear and well balanced between soloist(s) and orchestra.

The solo piano arrangements that Giltburg has prepared of the renowned String Quartet No. 8 and the Waltz movement from String Quartet No. 2 were undertaken with the consent of the composer’s family. These splendidly played arrangements work quite well and I’m glad I’ve heard them, nevertheless the amount of colour and texture lost in this new guise is far more marked then I expected. Recorded successfully at Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys the engineering team has provided Giltburg with cool, clear sound.

Since their release my favourite recordings of the Shostakovich piano concertos have been the 1983 London accounts performed by Dmitri Alexeev with the ECO under Jerzy Maksymiuk on the CFP label c/w The Assault on Beautiful Gorky (review). Make no mistake, this release from Boris Giltburg on Naxos provides fierce competition to Alexeev.

Michael Cookson

Previous recording: Simon Thompson (Recording of the Month)



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