PROKOFIEV: The Five Piano Concertos; Violin Concerto No. 1 in D – John Browning, piano Erick Friedman, violin Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Erich Leinsdorf – Testament

by | Jul 29, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

PROKOFIEV: The Five Piano Concertos; Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 19
– John Browning, piano Erick Friedman, violin Boston Symphony Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf

Testament SBT2 1376  76:35; 66:54 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:

This may be the first time Testament has explored the RCA catalogue to
resurrect here the first integral set (1965-1969) of the Prokofiev
Piano Concertos, recorded by “The Aristocrat of Orchestras,” if I
recall the RCA hype, and pianist John Browning (1933-2003), whom I
heard premier the Barber Piano Concerto in New York at a convocation
for Philharmonic scholarship winners. The ever-athletic Browning had
been a Rosina Lhevinne protégé, and he possessed a formidable technique
but a hard patina in the Horowitz mold. The music of Prokofiev suited
Browning’s aggressive, percussive style perfectly, where the staccato
block chords, interior lines, and even dazzling filigree could be
rendered with utmost clarity of articulation.  Under the sure
production hand of Richard Mohr, the RCA original pressings (despite my
aversion to Dynagroove LP surfaces) had a crystalline sound that made
for ravishing Prokofiev. Peter Dellheim, incidentally, supervised the
1969 G Major Concerto inscription. Erick Friedman (b. 1939) made his
recording of the D Major Concerto prior to the piano concerto survey, 4
April 1964, also with Richard Mohr’s production supervision. I met
Friedman a couple of years ago at the RoundTop Festival in Texas,
where, despite an ailment he led some fine master classes, reminisced
about Jascha Heifetz, and performed the Mozart A Major Concerto. His
Prokofiev D Major, the one his mentor Heifetz did not play, is a
carefully etched, colorful rendition, which owes as much to the
sensitive direction of Leinsdorf (1912-1993) as to Friedman’s suave
virtuosity.

Taking the Piano Concertos as a set, we have a solid survey, indeed,
although connoisseurs will continue to cherish Bolet, Lympany,
Cherkassky, Richter, and Argerich as interpreters of individual
concertos. The extended, solo cadenzas in the G Minor Concerto, as in
the last movement, have a delicious sonority as well as inwardness we
might more immediately assign to Schumann.  The opening D-flat
Concerto is a virile romp, audacious and naughty as it must have struck
the judges for the Rubinstein Prize so many years ago when the composer
played it as his competition concerto. The G Minor Concerto has breadth
and an often whiplash gait; I heard Browning do this one with Louis
Lane and bring down the Atlanta Symphony house. The solo flute and
Browning harmonize well in the opening flourish of the C Major
Concerto, the whole of which I find consistently compelling, even in
the face of competitors like Mitropoulos, Argerich, Francois, Janis,
Kapell, and Katchen. Browning provides an astonishing and dazzling
motor element to the concerto’s impetus, accelerating , non-legato, to
ravishing climaxes and washes of color, along with expert help from the
BSO battery. Browning and Leinsdorf reveal the B-flat (Left-Hand)
Concerto to possess some real beauties in the interior two movements,
and the Larghetto of the G Major Concerto sings with equal nobility and
sincerity, albeit with many hints back to the Op. 26 Concerto. After
the impulsive demonism of the first three concertos, the spaciousness
the performers allot the latter two concertos comes as a refreshment,
until, of course, the acrobatic Vivo of the G Major whips us away to
conclude the series.

–Gary Lemco

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