SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
If you have your doubts about the various scored-up versions of Shostakovich’s string quartets for chamber orchestra, then Boris Giltburg’s solo arrangements will likely raise the eyebrows even higher. But let’s not be hasty. The Waltz from the Second String Quartet is of necessity on the steady side, with rubato inflections that no string ensemble could achieve (or would probably want to). Yet such is the persuasiveness of the playing that the essential drama of the piece – its single-mindedness balanced against a mounting sense of alarm – certainly comes across. The Eighth Quartet is an odder choice, however. While the fast second and third movements lose little, and arguably even gain something in impact from the percussiveness of the piano’s attack, in slower passages Shostakovich’s sustained pedal-points pose unsolvable problems. Even here, Giltburg’s tact, skill and passion give an impression of how the composer might have introduced the work to his circle of friends. On the downside, some moments of rhetorical over-emphasis are more off-putting than convincing. The pianist’s own booklet-essay puts his case persuasively, sharing his responses to all the music on the disc candidly but without embarrassment.
Giltburg has all the agility, power and expressive intensity Shostakovich’s piano concertos demand, plus the temperament to negotiate their mercurial shifts of mood. Every phrase is imaginatively coloured or nuanced, and never out of gimmicky point making, always because he has something worth saying. And he has found like-minded partners in the RLPO and Petrenko, who not only follow and support him superbly but also respond and provoke where appropriate. The orchestra’s Principal Trumpet, Rhys Owen, is rock-steady in the First Concerto’s tricky low-lying cantabile, which is as much a feature of the part as its perky high-register interventions.
Overall, then, these are recordings to set alongside those of Melnikov and Currentzis as unusually productive creative collaborations. Naturally there are many differences. Melnikov is even more daring in the slow movement of the Second Concerto, for instance. And in the finale of the First, Giltburg opts for rhetorical pulling-back in order to maintain clarity and weight, rather than steaming through hell-for-leather as the composer’s recordings (and his score) suggest; either approach is defensible, though I’m bound to say I prefer the latter. Giltburg offers fully projected, concert-hall-style accounts, with all the richness of pedal and no-holds-barred attack that would suggest. Given that the piano is already close-miked and quite forwardly balanced, that can occasionally make the sound a touch over-bearing. Even so, I can’t imagine anyone taking great exception, especially given the Naxos price tag and the curiosity value of the arrangements.