TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concertos Nos 1-3 – Hough
It was back in 1991 that the much-missed Ted Perry asked me to write the booklet for Volume 1 of a tentative series of Romantic piano concertos. Moszkowski and Paderewski tested the water. Nineteen years later, the 49 volumes with their 126 works for piano and orchestra (59 of them world premiere recordings) constitute one of the landmarks in the history of recorded music. Stephen Hough’s contribution to the series has been one of its outstanding successes and it is to him that Hyperion gives the honour of the milestone Vol 50 containing, as it does, the quintessence of this series: Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto.
All four works were, like the Rachmaninov set, recorded live in America (Hyperion has decided not to include the Andante and Variations, intended as the final movements of the Third Concerto, left unfinished by a dissatisfied Tchaikovsky and completed by Taneyev). These, you can hear, are not performances made with the safety net of a studio but ones with a sense of occasion, purpose and risk-taking. Osmo Vänskä, particularly attuned to the sensibilities of Russian music, is an ideal partner for his inspired soloist. The old warhorse comes up as fresh as paint. Even with 130 alternatives on the market, this is an exceptional reading with brisk tempi and subtle nuances, such as the slight tenuto at 5'23" in the last movement, giving special pleasure. The electrifying pace Hough injects into the codas of No 1 and the Concert Fantasia are suitably exciting, though these are nothing compared to the tumultuous final pages of No 2 (a tremendous performance). The audience whoops in amazement.
The best comparable set is Pletnev with the Philharmonia and Fedoseyev (Virgin, 6/91) in their identical programme. Hough plays with a weightier tone, however, and the Minnesota players are more forwardly focused and evenly balanced (Andrew Keener is the producer common to both sets). Hyperion also includes as extra tracks Siloti’s brutally cut version of No 2’s Andante, followed by Hough’s own solution to the movement’s structure (how Tchaikovsky must be kicking himself not to have thought of this) as well as two delectable Tchaikovsky song transcriptions by Hough. This is a great recording – no doubt about that – and one which, if there is any justice, will garner any number of awards.