TCHAIKOVSKY; KHACHATURIAN Piano Concertos
It’s always a pleasure when, like Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate (if you’re old enough to remember), realisation exceeds anticipation. From the first bar (no chocolate pun intended), you know that this brilliant Chinese-American pianist is the business. As on her earlier concerto disc of Copland, Barber and Gershwin (12/13) with the same partners, she leads from the front throughout to exhilarating effect.
For those to whom such things are important (as I know they are from a review I penned last year of Denis Matsuev in the Tchaikovsky Second), the score is played complete in its original version – ie no cuts in the first movement and with the 16 bars included at the end of the second movement which Tchaikovsky removed in its revised form. To help us find our way during the lengthy first movement, Chandos has helpfully added three entry points. The two soloists in the second movement are credited, unlike those on Matsuev’s recording, who, however, I marginally prefer for their more espressivo solos.
The Khachaturian is, presumably, a replacement for Chandos of its well-regarded recording with Constantine Orbelian, Neeme Järvi and the same orchestra (11/87). Sumptuously engineered, the newcomer, unlike several other much-vaunted versions (Berezovsky) in inferior sound (Kapell, Lympany), takes Khachaturian at his word as far as tempi are concerned, markedly similar to the live performance conducted by the composer with Nikolai Petrov in 1977 (variously available). Chandos, as before, has gone to the trouble of hiring a flexatone for the spectral second movement (the player, alas, is not credited). Xiayin Wang plays the stamina-sapping solo part with all the conviction and exuberance needed, though no one has ever quite matched the climax of the first movement cadenza as recorded by Peter Katin, the LSO and Hugo Rignold back in 1959 (available to download) – a thrilling moment ‘captured in one lucky take,’ so Katin once told me. If you do not have a recording of the Tchaikovsky, then this is up with the very best; likewise the Khachaturian. Paired together, it’s a no-brainer.