TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No 2
Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto has always existed under a cloud. The composer himself was brought to believe that the violin and cello solos in the second movement (which turn the work momentarily into a triple concerto, and at the opening of the Andante must make an impatient pianist feel he is being kept waiting in the wings) were unacceptable to the public. Siloti—his pupil—made considerable cuts in his performances, and these excisions found their way into the posthumously published score. But there is a problem of length in the first movement, especially if as so often happens, it is played in a square, four-in-a-bar rhythm. This is the way it has usually been recorded and Shura Cherkassky's otherwise distinguished mono DG record of it (DGM18292, 10/56—nla) was all but ruined by the unyielding approach of the conductor, Richard Kraus. Rudolf Barshai in this marvellous new version does not fall into this trap and gives the opening tune the right lift by observing the marking Allegro brillante and creating an effect of cut common time; even then the movement plays for 22 minutes. But it goes with a splendid swing throughout, the lyrical secondary material is a delight and Barshai shows that the big central orchestral statement can be broadened the more effectively when the movement as a whole has such vigour and momentum.
At the opening of the Andante Nigel Kennedy coaxes the melody with a beguiling, affectionate warmth; his cellist partner, Steven Isserlis, is less extrovert, but the two string players show a fine rapport and when Peter Donohoe enters the effect is melting, and we are made to realize that this melody is one of Tchaikovsky's finest inspirations. But if Donohoe plays marvellously in the first two movements, he is positively inspired in the finale as the sheer exuberance of the pianism, the rhythms spring with a captivating, buoyant lightness show. Yet the main theme, shooting off with the energy of a ball in a pinball machine each time it begins, is readily matched by the exhilarating orchestral response. At the coda the power of Donohoe's cascading octaves is quite riveting and as the last note dies away one feels a physical need to leap up from one's seat with a ''Bravo!''. The only possible comparison for this thrilling finale is with the famous Horowitz/Toscanini RCA version (mono AT113, 3/73—nla) of the last movement of the B flat minor. Donohoe and Barshai generate comparable adrenalin and Donohoe's actual playing demonstrates a similarly physical bravura.
The recording is splendid. It has the right sort of brilliance and vividness, the balance is excellent and the ambience of Poole Arts Centre in Dorset seems just right for the music. Bravo, too, to Andrew Keener and balance engineer Mike Clements. This is one of the records of the year, not just the finest ever recording of a Cinderella work (and I don't forget Noel Mewton-Wood on his early Nixa mono LP—CLP1125, 9/52—nla) but the best performance I have ever heard of it. It is not a masterpiece, perhaps, but has some superb moments and they are all realized here. The work is played absolutely complete.'