Three Piano Concertos

April 8, 2017

9003643991309 copy

 

As I listened to this selectiion for the first time I thought to myself what an unusual choice of selections especially the Rimsky-Korsakov selection, one that I would consider unsung and seldom performed. Does Lizst and Tchaikovsky fit? The answer to the question is a resounding yes.  Not only does the historical (50+) years sound good, no stereo, but the playing is very good. While this would not be my choice of listening recordings of the Tchaikovsky or the Lizst recordings:I guess we have our favorites I tend to favor the Rimsky Korsakov recording over any of the others I have heard. For me this was just another orchestral color piece of Rimsky-Korsakov not better or worse than many of his others. This performance seemed to stick a little more inside me and I wanted to hear it again and again. Suddenly I began to enjoy the fine playing and listened to it as more of a piano concerto rather than an orchestral piece and I truly appreciated it for what it was written for. It is a scant 13 minutes, 5 minutes less than Tchaikovsky’s first movement but the shortness is an advantage as there is no excess baggage and every note and chord are there for a reason.

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is the favorite of many and for good reason. It is filled with melodies and is very accessible to even the beginning classical listener. The Lizst has a very powerful bold melody in the first movement that is fully developed around piano chords. A second more delicate theme appears part way through the first movement and continues into the next movement. A new theme, rather flashy surfaces in the third movement and also a repeat of the second theme. The final movement is a repeat of the theme from the first movement. Note that this is a four movement concerto not the standard three which is the norm.

Keep in mind that this is considered a historical recording and you’ll not hear the extended range as you’re accustomed to hearing on a Chandos recording. I feel that the fine playing overcomes that objection nicely.

 

 

 

This reviewer who has attended many concerts has never heard the Piano Concerto of Rimsky-Korsakov performed. Perhaps it is due to the fact that this was an area that Rimsky-Korsakov seldom explored and the popularity of Scheherazade Perhaps it is due to the short length or just the fact that it has seldom been considered part of a basic repertoire for a concert pianist except for Michael Ponti whose recording I purchased on vinyl in the early 70’s and also on CD. Perhaps it is as Campbell talks about in his liner notes that the complex cadenza requires considerable familiarity. Over the past several years there has been a recording by Campbell with the Royal Philharmonic on Telarc and recently Ogawa with the Malaysian Philharmonic on BIS also fine recordings.

The work is loosely based on a Franz Lizst concerto using published themes from Rimsky-Korsakov’s mentor and teacher Balakirev. As is the case with so many of his works it has a strong well used melody with very adequate support from the orchestra. However, this is a showcase piece for a pianist and Ponti attacks this work like as if it was his own and pulls out all the stops. While the orchestra and the fact that this is an analogue transfer are slightly less than the Telarc and BIS recordings, which are both digital, the performance gives the nod to this oldie but goodie Vox Box (CDX5082). This set in the $10.00 price range offers eight additional Korsakov orchestral works and even though they may not be the strongest choices they are still quite listenable.

The Telarc (80454) recording does have the advantage of a unique coupling with the Third Symphony of Tchaikovsky opening up the door to owning this less popular but certainly a must have for your Russian collection of material. Performed by Levine and the Royal Philharmonic and well recorded as usual from the Telarc engineers one would not lose a whole lot with the Campbell interpretation. In fact it is performed at a slower pace which might be to the liking of some listeners.

I found the BIS (CD 1387) recording to be far too clinical and the least favorite of the three recordings. However, the CD to my surprise offers one of the better recordings of the often performed Capriccio Espagnol as well as a nice Russian Easter Overture both of which will be reviewed in separate articles/reviews.

Money being no object, all three recordings is of merit and the other material is well worth having in your collection especially if you’re a fan of the orchestral genius of Rimsky-Korsakov and not having the Third Symphony of Tchaikovsky in your collection.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings

1….Michael Ponti playing with the Hamburg Symphony conducted by Richard Kapp (Vox Box CDX 5082) (A 2 CD set which includes Invisible City of Kitezh, Mlada, May Night, Christmas Eve, Overture on Russian Themes, Skazka, Sadko, and Concert Fantasy for Violin. ADD recording from 1972)

2….Jeffrey Campbell playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gilbert Levine (Telarc CD80454) (Also includes Symphony No. 3 of Peter Tchaikovsky. DDD recording from 1996)

3….Noriko Ogawa playing with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kees Bakels (BIS –CD-1387) (Also includes Cappriccio Espagnol, The Tale of Tsar Sultan, Sadko, and Russian Easter Festival Overture. DDD recording from 2004)