The Dvořák Piano Concerto will never
become a repertoire piece, but it is increasingly clear that the so-called
original version is gaining ground on the Vilém Kurz revision
still played by many. In a sense one has to qualify this still further.
The true original 1876 version was in fact ‘simple in conception’
according to a contemporary witness, as regards the piano part. Revised
and published in 1883 the concerto now sported shortened outer movements,
had been re-orchestrated and had a much more demanding piano part. In
terms of recordings all followed Kurz’s twentieth century revisions,
albeit Rudolf Firkušný, who recorded it multiply and was
greatly associated with it, did record a composite of his own work and
that of Kurz, and then played the original. It wasn’t until Richter
recorded the 1883 version with Carlos Kleiber, that we heard that earlier
version on disc. Still, and thinking out loud, it might be entertaining
one time to hear Dvořák’s very first thoughts on the
matter, should the sketches exist.
Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi now appears with his recording of
the 1883 edition, accompanied by Jiří Bělohlávek
and the BBC Symphony in Studio 1, Maida Vale in London in November 2012.
What a splendid job they make of it. It’s a performance full of
vivid imagery, refined lyric tracery and dancing rhythms. Some teasing
pianistic rubati - faithfully followed by the conductor - ensure that
nothing is metrical, and that the wind tapestry in particular sounds
authentically Czech, notably the high wind writing - something that’s
very noticeable in the lovely slow movement. The piano is firmly centre
stage in the sound spectrum but I don’t find that disadvantageous,
given that counter-themes are always audible. Note the passing reference
in the orchestral wiring in the central movement as
the piano trills and vaunts above it. The witty shape-shifting fugal
feint at the start of the finale launches plenty of brio and charm.
I think I prefer the level of energy and aural conviction in this performance
more than the otherwise fine Martin Helmchen performance with Marc Albrecht
on Pentatone [PTC5186 333]. Bělohlávek has recorded the
concerto several times but - so far as I’m aware - only in the
Kurz edition. His Supraphon with Ivan Moravec [SU 3965-2] is probably
the most recommendable. You need to go back to Maxián and Talich
[SU 3825-2] for the first great recording of the Kurz edition - though
Clough and Cuming’s ‘The World’s Encyclopaedia of
Recorded Music’ notes an even earlier (pre-war? Wartime?) Berlin
78 set by pianist Willi Stech and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.
The coupling in this disc is the ubiquitous Schumann Concerto recorded
live in concert at the Barbican in London in December 2012. The tenor
of the reading is relaxed, but the conductor is adept enough to ensure
that the orchestral tapestry accommodates Piemontesi’s approach.
This is precisely the coupling that Helmchen plays and his traversal
is just a bit faster and even more rugged than the Swiss player’s
more refined and longitudinal approach. You won’t be buying this
disc for the Schumann, almost certainly, but if you buy it for the Dvořák
you’ll hear a measured, unshowy and pleasing Schumann concerto
If you are keen to hear the Dvořák original - or maybe it’s
better to say ‘Original, mark II’ - then go for this Naive
release which comes complete with excellent notes by Ludmila šmidová.
Masterwork Index: Schumann