TCHAIKOVSKY; GRIEG Piano Concertos
After rubbing your eyes and maybe even hitting your forehead with the palm of your hand a few times to convince yourself that, yes indeed, in fact a young pianist has chosen to make his concerto recording debut with the Tchaikovsky and Grieg concertos, go ahead and have a listen. Denis Kozhukhin, who took first prize at the 2010 Queen Elisabeth, here partners with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Vassily Sinaisky. Out of repertory that has been celebrated, picked over and just about played to death over the course of almost a century and a half, they create magic.
To call Kozhukhin a fastidious pianist is perhaps misleading – immaculate may be the better word. He never overplays and he’s no speed freak. He’s never tempted to distort a phrase in order to make a rhetorical point. Above all, he is natural, and this naturalness allows him to create an impression of unaffected simplicity and directness. Of course, this could only be achieved by deeply cultivated musical instincts and a technique as developed and varied as it is unobtrusive. His inerrant rhythmic sense is pliant yet taut; his sound unalloyed silver. Listening to Kozhukhin, you’re left with one thing: the music – incontestable, complete. Sinaisky and the Berliners are fully complicit in this endeavour, providing accompaniments of extraordinary sensitivity. Savour, for instance, the rich sound of the woodwinds throughout the Tchaikovsky or the warmth of the cellos in the slow movement of the Grieg.
But why continue grasping for superlatives? Everyone has personal favourites for each of these concertos – Grainger/Stokowski, Novaes/Swarowsky, Rubinstein/Wallenstein for Grieg; Cliburn/Kondrashin, Argerich/Kondrashin, Gilels/Reiner for Tchaikovsky, to name but a few – and I don’t suggest this new CD will necessarily supersede any of them. But if a finale to the Tchaikovsky concerto that is more a colourful folk dance than a bombastic speed race, or a slow movement of the Grieg Concerto that sings of young love in a better climate seem appealing, I urge you to skip the mildly apologetic booklet-notes and sample this disc. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.