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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 (1874-1875, rev. 1879-1880) (original version)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 75 (1893) [15:10]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20 (1896) [25:58]
Xiayin Wang (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
rec. 2018, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
Reviewed as a stereo 24/96 download from Chandos.net
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHSA5216 SACD [75:08]

The bar is set very high when it comes to these concertos, and that poses a formidable challenge for pianists brave – or foolhardy – enough to attempt them. That said, having reviewed Xiayin Wang and these forces in a splendid pairing of the Khachaturian concerto and the original version of Tchaikovsky’s G major one, I’ve no doubt she’s bold – and limber – enough to vault these three (with room to spare). And the presence of Peter Oundjian and the RSNO, whose latest John Adams release was so warmly welcomed by Simon Thompson, is a definite plus.

Usually, I list several of comparative versions of the work(s) under review, but this time I’ll select just one each. Starting with Tchaikovsky’s first concerto, I was much impressed by Alexandra Dariescu’s 2014 account with Darrell Ang and the Royal Philharmonic (Signum). As for the third concerto, I always return to Peter Donohoe, Rudolf Barshai and the Bournemouth Symphony, recorded in 1989 (Warner). Then there’s the Scriabin, as set down by Yevgeny Sudbin, Andrew Litton and the Bergen Phil in 2013 (BIS).

Given the legendary status of Tchaikovsky’s Op. 23 – and its long line of stellar soloists – it’s all too easy for lesser pianists to over-reach themselves with this one. That’s what turned me off two recent recordings, with Denis Kozhukhin (Pentatone) and Beatrice Rana (Warner). Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of the Dariescu/Ang performance is that it doesn’t punch above its weight. That said, there’s eloquence and insight aplenty, which, together with an attractive coupling – Mikhail Pletnev’s Nutcracker arrangement – and good sound, makes for a most enjoyable release.

That same judicious approach is very much in evidence in Xiayin Wang’s Op. 23, the famous opening still thrilling in its surge and sweep. She’s firm and focused from start to finish, Ralph Couzens and Jonathan Cooper’s recording warm and weighty. The RSNO are on top form, too, with liquid woodwinds and songful strings. But it’s the soloist’s imaginative phrasing and disarming manner that deserve the most praise here. Also, Oundjian, a sympathetic accompanist, allows the music to ebb and flow in the most natural and unobtrusive way. Tuttis are all the more satisfying for being so discreetly signposted and so sensibly scaled.

My word, Xiayin Wang is a very thoughtful and engaging artist, the pliancy and soul of the ensuing Andantino especially pleasing. What a lovely touch, too, Tchaikovsky’s jewelled writing as lustrous as one could wish. Happily, she’s rhythmically supple yet suitably animated in the Allegro con fuoco, which burns with a steady flame rather than flares with magnesium heat. Then again, that’s the nature of this performance, which has none of the self-seeking pyrotechnics that so often mar this exhilarating finale. And so it is with the compact, closely argued Op. 75, where Xiayin Wang’s technical prowess, sensitively channelled, serves the music and nothing else.

How sensuous she is in the Scriabin, its rich harmonies superbly realised by soloist and orchestra alike. It’s a piece that’s apt to sprawl, and that it doesn’t here is a measure of everyone’s clarity and commitment. The Andante has wonderful poise and detail, the latter a reminder of how good the engineering is. It’s all so exquisitely washed and tinted, our painter-pianist showing exemplary taste and good judgment throughout. As for the finale, essayed with a strong sense of shape and approaching exultation, it’s even more rewarding when delivered with such assurance and style.

Would I want to be without Dariescu and Donohoe in the Tchaikovsky, or Sudbin’s Scriabin? No, but I’m happy to file Xiayin Wang’s fine performances alongside theirs. And while I’ve grumbled about the sound of some recent Chandos releases, I’ve absolutely no qualms about this one. Detailed liner-notes by David Nice complete a most attractive package.

Xiayin Wang just gets better and better; well worth your time and money.

Dan Morgan




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