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Russian Piano Concertos
Various artists
rec. 1964-2016
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95520 [15 CDs: 945:21]

Although the piano concerto became highly popular in nineteenth century Europe, it took rather longer to establish itself and make a significant impact in Russia. Once it did, however, it arrived with a vengeance, with Anton Rubinstein being a pivotal figure. He's now regarded as the 'father' of the Russian piano concerto. A prolific composer with symphonies, operas, oratorios concertos and chamber music to his name, sadly he seems to be remembered today chiefly for his salon piece Melody in F. He wrote five piano concertos and No. 4, which many consider to be his finest, is included in this set. It was certainly an influence over Tchaikovsky in his First Piano Concerto which, together with Rachmaninov's Second, sits centre stage in the Russian piano concerto repertoire.

This 15 CD survey has given me several weeks of listening pleasure, during which I've encountered much that is new to my experience. It features not only composers from today's Russia, but Paderewski, Scharwenka and Moskowski, who were born in Poland, then part of the Russian empire. The music spans a period of over a hundred years from Anton Rubinstein's Fourth Concerto of 1864 to Tikhon Krennikov's of 1972. There are the inevitable warhorses - Tchaikovsky 1 and 2, Rachmaninov 2 and 3 and Prokofiev 3. It’s a pity Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Rachmaninov’s 1 and 4 couldn't have been substituted, though. Most potential purchasers will no doubt have several versions of the more popular ones. The recordings have been gathered from a variety of sources, with the lion’s share coming from the Naxos and Vox catalogues.

As there's so much on offer, I thought I would point out some of the highlights that impressed me. Rimsky-Korsakov's Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 30 I'd only previously encountered via a 1950 recording with Richter/Kondrashin, sadly marred by dreadful sound quality. I was pleased to hear a well-recorded performance, here given by Hsin-Ni Liu and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky. The concerto, in three short linked movements, brims over with beguiling melody and cannot fail to enchant the listener. Xaver Scharwenka's Second Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 56 is completely new to me. What a discovery! At its heart is a glorious slow movement, heavily influenced by Chopin. Michael Ponti sculpts the phrases with ardent tenderness, whilst displaying some stunning virtuosity in the outer movements. Another gem is Sergei Bortkiewicz's Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 28. It was commissioned for the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. This terrific traversal, with Stefan Doniga as soloist, has been simultaneously released on the Piano Classics label and garnered some very positive reviews. The second movement is memorably delicious, and would appeal to those of a romantic disposition. One MusicWeb reviewer referred to the Concerto’s 'superheated romance' - that just about sums it up.

Rarely performed, the Mozskowski concerto has always been a great favorite of mine. Here, lush melodies sit shoulder to shoulder with some edge-of-the-seat drama. Again, it's Michael Ponti in the driving seat. He's also the soloist in Anton Rubinstein's Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70. Whilst this account is serviceable, for those wanting a recording of this work that ticks all the boxes then Joseph Moog is the pianist to turn to (Onyx4089). Ponti's Scriabin concerto does fare better. It was written in 1896, when the composer was twenty-four and bears all the hallmarks of freshness and youth. Ponti's dazzling virtuosity is impressive by any standards. The central movement's serenity is effectively captured. I'm also taken with his performance of the Medtner Third, commissioned by Benno Moiseiwitsch and dedicated to the Maharajah of Mysore. It's in three linked movements, the central being a brief ‘Interludium’. Once again, a satisfactory balance is struck between passionate rhetoric and lyrical eloquence. It's gratifying to welcome back Paderewski's Piano Concerto, Op. 17, ravishingly performed by the Polish pianist Felicja Blumental, which many will fondly remember from a Turnabout Vox LP. If you want to hear Evgeny Kissin at the start of his career, then look no further. There’s a thrilling live account of Tikhon Khrennikov’s Second Piano Concerto in top notch sound.

I'm pleased with the inclusion of the recent recording of the Shostakovich Piano Concertos 1 and 2 with Boris Giltburg, released by Naxos in 2016. The exquisite orchestral textures provided by the Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko are a compelling factor, as is Giltburg's intuitive feeling for the ebb and flow of both works. Equally attractive are the Korean pianist Kun Woo Paik's energetic accounts of Prokofiev's Piano Concertos 1, 3 and 4, also in top of the range sonics, with Antoni Wit providing engaging support.

To sum up, this is a fascinating and valuable survey offering much to savour. At a bargain price it’s an attractive proposition for those on a tight budget. It will be equally satisfying to those who wish to extend boundaries and discover some rare gems. The recordings range in sound quality from the decent (the Vox) to the exceptional (Shostakovich with Gitburg and Petrenko on Naxos). I must commend Brilliant for their documentation, with an excellent, informative liner by David Moncur.

Stephen Greenbank

Contents:

Arensky, Anton (1861-1906)
Piano Concerto in F minor, op.2

Balakirev, Mili (1837-1910)
Piano Concerto no.2 in E flat major, op. posth.

Bortkiewicz, Sergei (1877-1952)
Piano Concerto no.2, op.28 (for the left hand)
Piano Concerto no.3 'Per Aspera ad Astra', op.32

Glazunov, Alexander (1865-1936)
Piano Concerto no.1 in F minor, op.92
Piano Concerto no.2 in B major, op.100

Kabalevsky, Dimitry (1904-1987)
Piano Concerto no.1 in A minor, op.9
Piano Concerto no.2 in G minor, op.23
Piano Concerto no.3 in D major, op.50

Khachaturian, Aram (1903-1978)
Concerto-Rhapsody in D flat major for piano and orchestra
Piano Concerto in D flat major, op.38

Khrennikov, Tikhon (1913-2007)
Piano Concerto no.2 in C major, op.21

Lyapunov, Sergei (1859-1924)
Piano Concerto no.1 in E flat major, op.4
Piano Concerto no.2 in E major, op.38
Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, op.28

Medtner, Nikolai (1880-1951)
Piano Concerto no.3 in E minor, op.60

Mosolov, Alexander (1900-1973)
Piano Concerto no.1, op.14

Moszkowski, Moritz (1854-1925)
Piano Concerto in E major, op.59

Paderewski, Ignacy Jan (1860-1941)
Piano Concerto in A minor, op.17

Prokofiev, Sergei (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto no.1 in D flat major, op.10
Piano Concerto no.3 in C major, op.26
Piano Concerto no.4 in B flat major, op.53 (for the left hand)

Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor, op.18
Piano Concerto no.3 in D minor, op.30

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (1844-1908)
Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, op.30

Rubinstein, Anton (1829-1894)
Concertstuck in A flat major for piano and orchestra, op.113
Piano Concerto no.4 in D minor, op.70

Scharwenka, Xaver (1850-1924)
Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor, op.56

Scriabin, Alexander (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, op.20

Shostakovich, Dmitri (1906-1975)
Piano Concerto no.1 in C minor, op.35
Piano Concerto no.2 in F major, op.102

Tchaikovsky, Boris (1925-1996)
Piano Concerto

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto no.1 in B flat minor, op.23
Piano Concerto no.2 in G major, op.44

Artists
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
In-Ju Bang (piano)
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Stefan Doniga (piano)
Boris Giltburg (piano)
Bernd Glemser (piano)
Derek Han (piano)
Maria Littauer (piano)
Hsin-Ni Liu (piano)
Kun-Woo Paik (piano)
Michael Ponti (piano)
Klara Wurtz (piano)
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
Olga Solovieva (piano)
Shorena Tsintsabadze (piano)
Oxana Yablonskaya (piano)
Rhys Owen (trumpet)
Pavel Alfyorov (double bass)
Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Hamburg Symphony Orchestra
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Philharmonia Hungarica
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg
Westphalian Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine
Ireland National Symphony Orchestra
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Russian Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Conductors
Jorg Faerber
Hans Drewanz
David Porcelijn
Dmitry Yablonsky
Paul Freeman
Vladimir Fedoseyev
Othmar Maga
Helmuth Froschauer
Pierre Cao
Siegfried Landau
Hans Richard Stracke
Richard Kapp
Vladimir Sirenko
Jerzy Maksymiuk
Antoni Wit
Vasily Petrenko
Timur Mynbaev
Johannes Kalitzke




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