Jascha Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch, Volume 5 = Piano Concertos by MOZART, TCHAIKOVSKY – Jascha Spivakovsky, piano/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Clarence Raybould/ Victorian Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Bernard Heinze – Pristine Audio

The fifth in the series devoted to Russian piano virtuoso Jascha Spivakovsky delivers two potent concertos from his Australian concerts.

Jascha Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch, Volume 5 = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 23 in  Major, K.488; TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 – Jascha Spivakovsky, piano/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Clarence Raybould/ Victorian Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Bernard Heinze – Pristine Audio PASC 530, 58:22 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****: 

The fifth entry into the restored catalogue of Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970) recordings allows us the privilege of hearing his consummate keyboard artistry in collaboration with the full orchestra, in Classical and Romantic repertory, respectively. While the performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto (15 October 1949) will doubtless have auditors eager to make comparisons to the various Horowitz renditions, the Mozart Concerto (13 March 1953) may evince the greater musicality and unity of effect, given Spivakovsky’s natural, flexible line that he sustains without sacrificing either transparent power or clarity of articulation. 

The Mozart A Major Concerto of 1786—one of three concertos written for a Vienna audience—projects a less driven, softer radiance than several of its more brilliant contemporaries, in that the key of A Major—as in the Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto—reflects a serenity of spirit that Mozart maintains by eschewing the use of oboes, timpani and trumpets in the scoring.  The Adagio in F-sharp minor has well entrenched itself as among Mozart’s most affecting moments in music, evoking through Neapolitan harmony a somber pathos and lyric tragedy unique in his piano concertos. The last movement, a sonata-rondo, constantly kindles from Spivakovsky the spirit with Mozart’s infectious inventiveness, a playfulness wrought by the composer’s complete command of his medium that, here, indulges in virtuoso leaps and bravura gestures indicative of Mozart’s own digital facility.

The Tchaikovsky performance, like the Mozart recording, comes from 78 rpm acetates of the ABC radio broadcasts which still convey—by virtue of Restoration Engineer Andrew Rose and his patented XR process—Spivakovsky’s titanic octave and scalar technique, buttressed by his innate sense of pulse and use of intelligent silences. The deliberate pacing after the grandiose introduction, Andante non troppo e molto maestoso, lends a clear sense of Tchaikovsky’s idiosyncratic symmetries in the Allegro con spirito – much in debt to the Schumann Concerto – with each phrase repeated twice. Spivakovsky demonstrates his rhythmic as well as arioso sympathy for Tchaikovsky’s plangent phrases, effectively applying a tempo rubato where he feels the liquid drama will tolerate pointed exaggeration. At times, the feverishly volcanic thrust threatens to explode into unfettered demonism, but Spivakovsky and Heinze pull the structure back to its often bemused spontaneity. The thunderous interchange between Spivakovsky and the Victoria Symphony timpanist alone warrants the price of admission! The pearly play of Spivakovsky’s cadenza attests to his extraordinary range of touches and dynamic shifts, given the easy velocity of his transitions. 

The D-flat Major Andantino semplice – Prestissimo indulges the woodwinds and Spivakovsky in a tender theme and variations that suddenly explodes into a series of scampering riffs, trills, and liquid runs that demonstrate from Spivakovsky yet another potently lyrical string in his pianistic harp. The B-flat Major Allegro con fuoco plays like a Ukrainian stomping dance in which even the string pizzicatos exert an imposing force.  The counter-subject is all Tchaikovsky ballet lyricism, with Spivakovsky’s vaulting arpeggios in colossal form. The music will skip and hurtle forward to its inevitable, mammoth conclusion, the orchestral crescendo’s leading to Spivakovsky’s long-awaited burst of octave thunderbolts, “the two equal opponents” of piano and orchestra finally reconciled in a grand apotheosis of illimitable power. In his liner notes, Mark Ainley asserts that Spivakovsky performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto “some 400 times over a four-decade period.” This explosive recording makes us wish we had the other 399.

—Gary Lemco

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