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Jonathan Woolf
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Jascha Spivakovsky (piano) 
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) [25:41]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 (1874-1875) [32:20]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Clarence Raybould
Victorian Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Heinze
rec. c.1953, BBC Concert Hall, Broadcasting House, London (Mozart) and 15 October 1949, Melbourne Town Hall (Tchaikovsky)
Bach to Bloch - Volume 5

This is the first in Pristine’s Jascha Spivakovsky releases to feature concerto performances and it’s also the first to be heard in professional-standard recordings. Adherents thus far will know that home-recording of domestic performances, or those taken down off-air in Australia, have formed the meat and drink of the four volumes so far released.

Mozart’s Concerto No.23 found Spivakovsky with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted not by Beecham but by stalwart Clarence Raybould. The date is conjecturally c.1953 and the recording comes from 78rpm acetates derived from Australian radio broadcasts of 13 March 1953. The location was the BBC Concert Hall in Broadcasting House, London. It would be interesting to know more about the circumstances of the original broadcast as a quick perusal of Radio Times for the period in question threw up nothing in relation to this, as a domestic broadcast, even though Spivakovsky was quite popular in Britain at the time and did give radio and even television performances.

The sound certainly isn’t perfect, though as a historic artefact it’s quite serviceable. Balances are not quite right, and the piano spectrum is inclined to be a little cloudy. Ensemble is largely good though the strings can sound a little splintery. Spivakovsky plays with taste and maturity, taking the first movement cadenza in his stride and revealing a reserved gravity in the central movement. There’s a fair quotient of insouciant wit in the finale.

The Tchaikovsky was recorded four years earlier, in 1949, and it too comes from 78 acetates of the broadcast of this concert performance from Melbourne Town Hall directed by Bernard Heinze. Mark Ainley’s enthusiastic one-page note is good but doesn’t have the space to go into the nature of the connection between Spivakovsky and the conductor which dated back at least to 1929 when Heinze accompanied him and a raft of other famous soloists – Erica Morini, Mark Hambourg, Brailowsky and Moiseiwitsch – in Australian performances. In 1944 Heinze produced a Beethoven concerto series and Spivakovsky was one of his soloists. So, by 1949 they had clearly developed a rapport which can be felt in this decidedly adrenalin-filled performance. The sound, it’s true, is congested. But there’s thunderous virtuoso panache at work, though not quite without moments of poetry, with barnstorming accelerandi and a dramatic cadenza. Not all of this will necessarily convince – nor will one or two odd orchestral noises in the first movement from the Victorian Symphony – but one can assuredly appreciate filigree pianism, passagework clarity and a hell-for-leather approach. The performance is applauded and back announced.

This is, for me, the most revealing release so far in the Spivakovsky trail.

Jonathan Woolf

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