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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C minor, Op.35 [21:56]
Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op.67 [23:44]
Concertino in A minor for two pianos, Op.94 [7:50]
Piano Concerto No.2 in F major, Op.102 [19:02]
André Previn (piano: 1)
William Vacchiano (trumpet)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Piano: 2)
Oistrakh Trio
Maxim & Dmitri Shostakovich (Concertino)
rec. 1960s
ALTO ALC1417 [73:00]

These four recordings from the early 1960s still delight and project vitality despite the passage of six decades. All have appeared before … although not together. They make for a pretty well stocked disc jostling for super-budget space.

The last time I heard these two concertos together. as coupled in these versions, was in 2002 on a Sony disc. They have the New Yorkers as the elite orchestra and Bernstein conducts both. In the First Concerto Previn was hot property from his Tin Pan Alley days. He is heard in the bravura jazzy First Concerto (1933). Vacchiano, whose name travelled far and wide on the strength of this reading, is vaudeville, blitzy and succulent. The truth is though that, to my mind, the First Concerto is not a patch on the Second (1957). It has some breathtaking shock value but the later work, for all the occasional censure about its populism, is a devastatingly communicative piece. It’s pulse-quickeningly exciting and deeply touching. The second movement (Largo) shares a mood with the Lento of the First Concerto but immerses itself far more successfully in sentimentality.

Other versions of the two concertos are worth hearing and there are many. I mention Shostakovich (EMI Great Recordings of the Century), Ortiz (EMI originally), Alexeev (CfP), Hamelin (Hyperion) and Marshev (Danacord). If you are looking for a “left field” ferociously Soviet choice then try to find Eugene List with Maxim Shostakovich conducting the USSRSO on RCA Navigator. This CD might take you a while to find but will also introduce you to a staggeringly bright-eyed and intelligent Mikhail Khomitser in the First Cello Concerto.

Alto’s Piano Trio No. 2 is heard from Lev Oborin, David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Knushevitsky. It sounds like a live performance complete with the odd cough but you can set that against its breathy electricity. This is an introspective straight-faced work with none of the populism or brashness of the two piano concertos. The short thigh-slapping second movement contrasts with the cold and slow-burning flame of the Largo. The finale mixes klezmer strands with the composer’s own brand of pounding and merciless excitement. The 1954 Concertino’s stern and starry Bach-like gestures are here heard from composer/pianist father and pianist/conductor son. To vary the mix there’s also music that feels like a premonition of the first movement of the Second Piano Concerto.

Alto successfully marry celebrity early recordings from New York and Moscow. Gavin Dixon is the excellent annotator. The booklet is in English only. Much to enjoy here but the Second Concerto is a brilliant work and Bernstein and his orchestra and engineers know it. Cornerstone works in archive readings that still breathe, flash and spark.

Rob Barnett

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