Tchaikovsky has often been described as the composer of grand light music. When I first heard this concerto forty years ago I was taken by the slow movement, where there are extended passages for a piano trio, and it reminded me of the Palm Court Orchestra and Max Jaffa. To my mind, Tchaikovsky’s finest works are not the ballets or the works with ‘good tunes’ but the operas, chamber music and particularly his exquisite songs. He did not write well for the piano (see my interview with Peter Katin) and it is a curious thing that his most popular works are not his best works. He was, however, very fluent resulting in his music sounding very ‘natural’; but he was also a superb technician particularly in remote keys e.g. the Piano Concerto No 1 is in Bb minor and the mellow Quartet no 3 is in Eb minor.
The First Piano Concerto is structurally an enigma. It begins with four minutes of that ‘big tune’ which is never heard again. The Second Piano Concerto is more coherent and logical and demands a pianist of exceptional skill, virtuosity and warmth. But it is not just the right notes and tempo but an understanding of this unfolding drama. Boyde makes detail come to life; he has an amazing capacity to build up long piano solos thereby making them full of interest. His cadenzas are breathtaking and the clarity of his finger work is stunning. And, thankfully, he is not a barnstorming, glamorous, athletic performer, although he generates tremendous excitement. He has enviable lyrical gifts and I have to say that, bearing in mind that this is a public performance (where one does not get a ‘second chance’), it is very impressive indeed. The orchestra and conductor must also be congratulated.
The slow movement can wallow into cheap sentimentality if a strict tempo is not observed. I once read a review that stated that Tchaikovsky was inspired to write this movement after hearing the slow movement of Brahms’ cherished Double Concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote his work in 1880, Brahms in 1887! In this movement Boyde and Fritzch combine effectively to prevent the music deteriorating into cheap Johann Strauss confectionary. While the performers avoid these pitfalls they also capture the warm mellowness. We have music, not an indulgence in mawkishness. There are, however, moments of tender beauty and the pianists clever timing of his entries enhances the music’s expectations.
The finale Allegro con fuoco is a brilliant tour de force. Many pianists who refuse to play this concerto stating that they do not like it, are hiding the truth that they cannot play it. And this is one reason why the work stayed on the shelf for a long time. I would have preferred a stronger attack in this movement but this is more than adequately compensated for by the sparkling clearness. Then, all of a sudden, the performance explodes – a marvellous moment – and the work rushes on to an exhilarating and ruthless conclusion.
I hope Boyde may consider performing Tchaikovsky’s other fine piano and orchestra work, the Concert Fantasy of 1884 also in G major. Peter Katin’s unrivalled performance with Boult is still available, fortunately.
Shostakovich Symphony No 9 is sometimes maligned for being ‘lightweight’ but as with the unsurpassed finale of his Symphony No 6, of which Fritz Reiner’s version is, by far, still the best, Shostakovich introduces a burlesque sense of humour probably to counteract the repressive Stalin regime.
I was brought up on Mravinsky’s performance and so, rightly or wrongly, I judge all performances by that. Perhaps Fritzch’s performance may occasionally lack some finesse but when one considers the amazing detail he reveals and his excellent control and balance this seems insignificant. There are some superlative woodwind solos and the intonation throughout is remarkably secure but I found the tempi rather cautious.
The exemplary recording greatly aids the clarity of detail.
We’re truly reflecting our transatlantic setup with these two upcoming releases from #Métier: ‘Sonic Fictions’ from American composer Joshua Fineberg and new works for #stringquartet from Britain’s Michael Finnissy. divineartrecords.com… pic.twitter.com/CU1B…
Works by Robert Fokkens will be performed at Woordfrees 2018 on 11 March. woordfees.co.za/even…
Another great review for 'Violin Muse' and @MadeleineM_Vln. "a CD, which I believe, will stay on your CD player, and the sounds in your head, for a long, long time." Thank you @peterbyromsmith. twitter.com/SoundsMa…