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André Tchaikowsky (piano)
The Complete RCA Album Collection
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 1957-1959
Stereo, except for CD 1 in mono
SONY CLASSICAL 88985470142 [4CDs: 175:31]

Although Forgotten Records have issued all of these recordings (with the exception of the Bach Concerto) (review ~ review), back in 2014, a boxed-up edition from Sony of André Tchaikowsky's complete RCA discography is long overdue. It is now thirty-five years since the Polish pianist's untimely death from colon cancer at the age of forty-six, in 1982. Over a two-year period, between 1957-1959, Tchaikowsky set down a total of just ten records for RCA Victor and Columbia. One reason for his slender recorded legacy is that he was a difficult and uncooperative character to work with. His abrasive personality alienated him from conductors and record producers alike. His antipathy towards the social mores of the concert-giving circuit, and especially the patronage of the arts in America at the time by rich socialite ladies, is well-documented. A general overview of the composer/pianist is laid out in my review of his biography: A Musician Divided - André Tchaikowsky in his Own Words by André Tchaikowsky and Anastasia Belina (Toccata Press, 2013 - review). Belina has provided the liner notes for this release.

Tchaikowsky rises to the technical challenges of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit admirably. A work of epic proportions, he captures the individual character of each of the three pieces to perfection. Ondine is mischievous and seductive, Le Gibet evokes menace and suspense, whilst energy and drama inform Scarbo. Employing some deft pedalling, he's able to achieve superb colouring of this impressionistic score. Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, inspired by Russian Symbolist Konstantin Balmont ‘In every fleeting vision I see worlds / Filled with the changing play of rainbows’, are similarly infused with myriad tonal shades.

Bach's Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 is the only recording in the set which is unsuccessful. It's difficult to know where to apportion blame. Reiner's conducting in the opening tutti is wooden and monotonous. He's unable to provide any inspiration for the pianist who equally seems disengaged. There’s one explanation for this tangible lack of empathy between the two. The Concerto was taped during the same February 1958 session as the Mozart Concerto. Kenneth Morgan, in his biography 'Fritz Reiner: Maestro & Martinet' relates how the conductor was furious that the pianist confessed to him that he had never played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 in public and had learned it just for that occasion. Reiner was affronted that Tchaikowsky wasn't more familiar with it, and the pianist was never again invited back to record in Chicago.

Having said that, I find Mozart Concerto a captivating performance. Unfussy and unselfconscious, as was Reiner’s wont, the reading is classical in its approach, with due regard paid to structure and architecture. The woodwinds shine through with exquisite refinement, with the strings warm and rich-sounding. The first movement cadenza, the pianist’s own, is unidiomatic. The second movement is lyrically generous, with an expressive and eloquent dialogue taking place between soloist and orchestra. Phrases are well-matched. Tchaikowsky achieves a beautiful translucent, bell-like tone. The finale is carefree, joyous and relaxed. One can only marvel at the pianist’s pearl-like finger-work and evenness of tone. The C minor Fantasie K475 was published in December 1785 together with the Sonata in C minor, K457. The two works are often paired in performance, as they are here. The Fantasie has many different changes of mood and tempo. The pianist carries it off superbly, maintaining the line and narrative throughout the course. His treatment of the two sonatas is very much akin to his reading of the concerto. He avoids an overly-romantic approach. Neither does he impose his personality, but rather lets the music speak for itself. Rubatos are carefully managed and are in no way intrusive. Ornaments are stylish and exquisitely tailored. Bass lines are sensitively pointed. The slow movements have a benign innocence, with emphasis placed on the lyrical and expressive elements. Dynamics are finely graded, and tempi well-chosen. He takes meticulous care over phrasing in portraying the dramatic aspects. Delicacy of touch, filigree finger-work, and sensitive pedalling all add to the success of the mix.

It's a pity Tchaikowsky didn’t record all of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, as the ten we are offered are performed with a wealth of imaginative insights. Perhaps No. 4 lacks the poetry one finds in Cortot's recording. The Mazurkas are elegant and restrained with rubato tastefully judged. The Barcarolle and Ballade are amongst the best I've heard.

Considering that CD reissues of his recordings have been scarce and sporadic, this release is more than welcome. I would offer a plea for the five volumes of his complete Columbia (EMI) recordings to be reissued. They made a brief appearance on the French Dante label in the 1990s, but have since fallen by the wayside. They include an exceptionally fine Goldberg Variations, and a remarkable selection of Chopin’s Mazurkas.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [43:20]
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, M. 55 [21:01]
Prokofiev: Visions fugitives, Op. 22 [22:19]
rec. 4 June 1957, Salle Wagram, Paris

CD 2 [43:29]
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 [32:54]
Bach: Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 [10:28]
re. 15 February 1958, orchestra Hall, Chicago

CD 3 [43:32]
Mozart: Fantasy for Piano in C Minor, K. 475 [11:53]
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Minor, K. 457 [16:05]
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330 [14:46]
rec. 26-28 January 1959, Webster Hall, New York

CD 4 [45:10]
Chopin: 24 Préludes, Op. 28 (Excerpt of 10 Préludes) [15:08]
Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 [8:47]
Chopin: Étude in A-flat Major, Op. 10, No. 10 [2:22]
Chopin: Étude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 7 [1:31]
Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 59: No. 1 in A Minor [3:35]
Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 59: No. 2 in A-flat Major [2:57]
Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 56: No. 1 in B Major [4:17]
Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47 [7:12]
rec. 10-11 March 1959, Webster Hall, New York



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