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Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Gerstein / Gaffigan

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Gerstein / Gaffigan

Myrios  MYR016

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (1879 version)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2

Kirill Gerstein, piano
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
James Gaffigan


Since 1894, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 has been publishd and performed in a version containing numerous unauthorized editorial alterations that were added posthumously. This is the first recording of the 1879 version of the Piano Concerto – the version that was approved and conducted by Tchaikovsky until his last public appearance in 1893.

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Review by John Broggio - February 15, 2015

Outstanding from beginning to end.

Opening the disc is Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto but not as we normally hear it; Siloti's changes (most audible at the very opening and for extended passages in the third movement) are removed and change the character of the work. The use of arpeggiated chords here to accompany the strings strips away much of the bombastic nature of the music that is loathed nearly as much as it is loved. Gerstein and Gaffigan convey a much more cohesive piece than we are usually given. Those who find this concerto oddly constructed will find many of their concerns allayed by this performance of the revised score. A particularly fine example is the extended modulation passage in the third movement after the first main tutti. Rather than coming "out of nowhere", the dazzling ascending double-octave scale from Gerstein is now carefully prepared by Tchaikovsky making this brilliant passagework far less superficial than it does normally. Throughout Kirill Gerstein, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin & James Gaffigan play this without a hint of resorting to virtuosity for its own sake.

This is perhaps the most lyrically beautiful account of this score (in any version) that I have heard; some will miss perhaps a more overtly dramatic approach but in the context of the textual changes such a performing style would be incongruous. Even the codas of the outer movements, whilst being far from sluggish, are never given a "devil may care" or "catch me if you can" treatment, Gerstein & Gaffigan are far more noble in approach. Of course, for the standard version, one can turn to one of the 22 other versions on SACD of which perhaps Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Volodos / Ozawa, Tchaikovsky / Medtner: Piano Concertos No. 1 - Sudbin / Neschling or Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Matsuev / Gergiev count as the finest on hi-resolution media. This recording, even if one owns multiple accounts of this oft-recorded work, surely deserves a place in anyone with a love for Tchaikovsky.

The Prokofiev concerto is a fearsome piece and the technical difficulties dwarf those of the Tchaikovsky for both orchestra & soloist. Here both the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under James Gaffigan & Kirill Gerstein respond superbly and switch from graceful lyricism to demonic brilliance so quickly and convincingly that one can scarcely believe it is only one group of musicians being heard. Compared to Prokofiev: Piano Concertos 2 & 3 - Kempf, Litton, here the first movement is notably faster but the corresponding tempo for the Intermezzo third movement is conversely more relaxed (both interpretations are equally valid and fine). Kempf is marginally quicker in the Scherzo second movement but the phrasing here gives the music an impetus that means this account does not feel any slower. The finale perhaps best illustrates the differences between the two accounts; in the first climax (around 1'10 onwards), the Berlin players have a more concentrated and ominous depth to their tone. The tonal blend that is achieved shortly afterwards in the subsequent reflective & lyrical passage by the Berlin players is a delight to the ear but others may prefer Litton's way of highlighting the individual timbres of the Bergen orchestral players. One key interpretative decision for listeners will be the relative importance given to the piano part; Kempf & Litton seem to agree that the piano should always be heard above the orchestra, Gerstein & Gaffigan are more flexible and allow the piano to rise above the orchestra (only) when it has the melody. The passage that encapsulates the difference in pianistic playing styles is the cadenza about two-thirds of the way through the movement: when heard back-to-back, Kempf is much more of the showman but Gerstein finds similar virtuosity and yet manages to deliver this staggeringly complex music in a soaring manner that is quite lacking from Kempf.

The sound is rich, deep and has a wonderfully wide dynamic range that is evident in both concertos. The orchestra and Gerstein's Steinway both sound gorgeous and demonic by turn and it is to everyone's credit how well this sounds. Wonderful notes from Gerstein himself cap a marvellous disc.

Very strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2015 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 8, 2015

Myrios may be a small, but is nonetheless an excellent recording company and this disk is another proof of what Stephan Cahen is able to do: Capture the quality of both soloist and orchestra in an exemplary fashion, thus creating a perfect listening environment for the discerning ear.

However, in the Hi-Res community one tends to forget that sound is not the only thing that counts. Outside its boundaries others are able to do a good job as well. And although sound may not be up to the same, demanding standard, interpretation can be such that it bridges that gap.

Taking the recording in reversed order I have chosen a line-up of Kempf/Litton/Bergen Philharmonic (SACD-BIS), Gutiérrez/Järvi/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RBCD-Chandos) and this one, for a comparison of Prokofiev’s second piano concerto. The result is quite revealing.

To begin with: The 1990 Chandos recording sounds much better than I had anticipated. A bit edgy maybe, but with a wide and blooming full frequency sound stage, what used to be called ‘The Chandos Sound’, where instruments can clearly be pinpointed. No wonder with Couzens & Couzens at the helm and mixing table.

And that is not all. Järvi Senior, still in his heydays, ably lays out a strong and urging picture of true Prokofiev-ism, far away from the ‘dreaming’ first movement of both Kempf and Gerstein. Of course, Järvi has had the advantage of having at his disposal the forces of the Concertgebouw and in Horacio Gutiérrez a confirmed soloist of fame, perhaps most prominently so in the United States.

Further listening revealed that of the two remaining ‘competitors’ Gerstein clearly has the upper hand. While both played with sufficient articulation and virtuosity, Kempf, on second scrutiny, fell through at times, notably in the second movement were, given the fast speed chosen, he (and Litton plus orchestra) seemed to lose control over the complexity of the score. Moreover, I find that Kempf’s careful approach in the other movements is one of staying too much ‘on the safe side', whereas Gerstein’s apparent prudency seems primarily a result of eschewing unnecessary showing off.

In the final movement Kirill Gerstein, supported by an excellent Berlin Radio Orchestra, comes to life. This is the best of all three interpretations and for this reason alone this disk is worth acquiring. In fact, in high resolution there is no better version available.

Tchaikovsky is a different matter. The fact that we have here the second version, missing some of the add-on in the third and final one, is an interesting feature. But if it is enough to lure over Tchaikovsky diehards, who cherish the glitz and the glitter most of them are used to and has, indeed, become the favourite for many piano competitions all over the world, remains to be seen. I would imagine that they are more interested to hear Denis Matsuev, or, in the realm of RBCD, the dazzling performance by Martha Argerich, as recorded by Philips in the early 1980’s with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra under the baton of the late Kirill Kondrashin, shortly before his death.

True, Kirrill Gerstein clearly stands out as a highly accomplished musician and so are Gaffigan and the players of the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Everything is perfect, well-conceived with well-chosen speeds and lots of virtuosity. And yet, however good it is in a highly competitive field, it fails to hit the moon. It falls somewhat short on emotion and inner tension.

For comparison I turned to one of my first Super Audio disks: Nicolai Lugansky with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano; one of the early Pentatone recordings. These forces have a lot more to say. Not only has it all the expertly recorded bells and whistles without vulgar bombast, but also, and above all: ‘Grandeur’. Lugansky amazes with a well-judged mixture of force, virtuosity and lyrical poetry. The underlying Ukrainian folk melodies are expertly treated. Together with Nagano and the members of the orchestra there is unity in tension and emotion. In short: this is still my preferred version. I realise, however, that such a comparison is not altogether fair, since we are dealing with different versions and, possibly, objectives.

In conclusion: recommended for Prokofiev and with a positive advice for Tchaikovsky in an unusual and well balanced version.

Blangy le Château
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2015 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (2)
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Comment by Adrian Quanjer - December 9, 2015 (1 of 2)

Isn’t there something strange about Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto?

A short research in the UK learns that no less than 10 different versions were chosen as ‘orchestral choice’, ‘concerto choice’, ‘first choice’, ‘editor’s choice’, ‘disc of the month’; and a further 7 as ’re-issue of the year’, ‘finalist’, ‘Penguin rosette’, ‘4 star Penguin’ and finally: ‘album of the year’. It would seem that on condition of being well played and recorded almost any interpretation qualifies for a prize!

What it most probably means is that it’s not so much the interpreters but Tchaikovsky getting the first prize. In our quest for quality we focus too much on artists and recording quality, thereby easily forgetting that it is the quality and character of the composition that lies at the heart of it all.

Differences between the ‘winners’ become only apparent if listened to side by side. I admit that the result: good, better, best, is a subjective and personal one, be it that a reviewer justifies his judgement as much as reasonable on experience, knowledge and having listened to more than one interpretation.

By the way, in this field of contenders the only one presenting the concerto as it was probably meant by Tchaikovsky is Kirill Gerstein, although there is an older EMI recording of Jean-Philippe Collard with the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra (Ankara, Turkey) conducted by Emil Tabakov, who claims that his slow version (over 22 min. first movement) is the correct one.

Comment by William Hecht - December 29, 2015 (2 of 2)

There was also a 1987 recording of the "original" version by Lazar Berman with Temirkanov and the RSO Berlin, my first exposure to anything other than the "standard" version. Whatever the respective virtues of the now various "originals" I share the reviewers' enthusiasm for Mr. Gerstein's recording, and also heartily recommend (from among all those "disc of the month" etc. choices) Yevgeny Sudbin's Tchaikovsky / Medtner: Piano Concertos No. 1 - Sudbin / Neschling, which brilliantly presents the "standard" version stripped of much of it's accumulated hyper-romantic baggage. Why it has escaped a site review for eight years is beyond me. How fortunate we are to live in an age when we can pop a disc into a player and compare and enjoy two such wonderful recordings.