Dvorák Piano Concerto; (The) Golden Spinning Wheel
Straight to the top of the list for this one! Even on its best showings – Richter and Carlos Kleiber, Firkuny under Somogyi – Dvorák’s Piano Concerto has never quite managed to cast off its Cinderella rags. With this recording, the ball beckons, and there’s no time limit. Granted that Brahms is still securely in the background and the concerto is hardly as pianistic as the best of its concerto-peers but the beauty of this performance is its utter naturalness, Pierre-Laurent Aimard easing around the solo part as if he’s been playing it all his life. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s sympathy for the work is obvious from the start, the main melody artfully shaped and phrased, likewise when Aimard takes up that same theme (3'23"), totally without self-consciousness.
Note too the Chopinesque beauty of the second movement, ravishing dialogue involving soloist and bassoon (from around 2'03") and with quietly sonorous support from pizzicato basses. The finale incorporates one or two subtle prophecies of the Symphonic Variations and New World Symphony, references made all the more pertinent in such an alert and persuasive performance.
Aimard and Harnoncourt also make the most of the score’s drama, giving the lie to Dvorák’s supposedly ineffective piano writing. Albrecht Gaud’s excellent booklet note credits the long-prevalent revision by Vilém Kurz as giving the part ‘not only a more effective form’ but also the virtue of extra clarity. And yet it appears that the original is used here (the CD text doesn’t actually say), used and redeemed. Richter’s clarity and Firkuny’s knowing accent (the version quoted above still uses elements of Kurz) remain attractive, but Aimard’s combination of intelligence and informality win the day.
Harnoncourt’s rumbustious and atmospheric account of The Golden Spinning Wheel has already appeared on a recommendable double-pack containing all four of the ‘late’ Erben tone poems (the others, like this one, were previously were used as fill-ups to larger works). Again, Harnoncourt relishes different elements in Dvorák’s scoring, the motorised canter of the opening horn theme, the use of cor anglais and violin that recalls the Carnival Overture and the big string theme at around 3'58" which sounds more than ever like Mendelssohn. It’s a marvellous performance, thrillingly conveyed in lifelike sound, with especially vivid brass and percussion. Odd though that both the booklet and the box claim that the Concerto is live and (by inference) the tone poem isn’t, whereas the evidence – audible coughs at 9'14" into The Golden Spinning Wheel– suggest that it’s the other way around. Still, no matter, a magnificent CD.