Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto is generally regarded as a poor cousin to his First, but this really needn’t be so. What it takes is a pianist who is willing to make of it more than a duty to be performed or a vehicle to show merely how fast and loud it can be played (and there are plenty of opportunities for just that). The German pianist Andreas Boyde is exactly the man for the job. Of the half dozen recordings I know of this concerto, Boyde more than any brings out the music in the notes. He obviously cares deeply about the work, shaping phrases lovingly, interpolating numerous touches of finesse and nuance, observing the dynamics in the score (and adding a few more of his own), knowing when to hold back and when to let loose.
In the right hands, Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto can be every bit as impressive as the First. In fact, it has even more massive sonorities, raging torrents of sound, better themes, more dialogue between soloist and orchestra, and is laid out on an equally large scale. In its short, “normal” version it lasts 35 minutes (same as the First) but in its expanded version it can take up to 50 minutes. I even heard one live performance (with Postnikova) that lasted just short of an hour. There are two huge cadenzas in the first movement, the second of which covers an incredible 135 measures and packs the energy of a Category 5 hurricane. What Horowitz might have made of this!
Boyde is splendidly matched by conductor Johannes Fritzsch, who is equally sympathetic to the score. Together with the excellent Freiburg Philharmonic, they make a strong case for the concerto. This is a live recording but the presence of an audience is virtually undetectable save for the applause. If you’re looking for an excuse to move on from the First Concerto, or if the recordings you already own of the Second don’t do much for you, go for this one.
Also on the program of that concert from 1997 was Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, which, like the Tchaikovsky concerto, is a lesser-known work by a famous composer and in need of a strongly persuasive performance to make its case. Here, too, the Freiburgers turn in top-notch playing and are led by a conductor who obviously believes in the music and knows how to make it come alive. Their performance fairly crackles with excitement.