SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; RODION SHCHEDRIN: Piano Concerto No. 5 – Denis Matsuev, piano/ Timur Martynov, trumpet/ Mariinsky Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD 0509, 73:32 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This is only my second encounter with the formidable pianism of Denis Matsuev—the first being a wondrous Carnegie Hall recital on RCA. His manner is thunderous in the best and biggest Bolet mold, while espousing a softer side reminiscent of Horowitz at his most poetic. In the Shostakovich concertos there’s not much chance for either of these, which makes examination of yet a third side of the artist even more fascinating. Neither of these concertos makes or breaks any pianist—the music is simply not up to the task of illuminating those aspects of pristine pianism that we so often expect to hear when listening to other types of music. This is not to say that Shostakovich fails to enchant or to move—far from it, as his slow movements especially are quite surprisingly sentimental, even if we feel he is pulling the wool over our eyes—but his piano music is first and foremost at the service of his own peculiar compositional ideals, and his goals end there.
So in vain does one look for anything spectacular in this music from the piano player. Instead the focus is on how well he or she is able to blend the steely and somewhat subsidiary piano part into the whole. It’s a strange element at work here; taken alone the piano part has but partial attraction in relation to the whole, but the whole, piano and all, is quite the stunner, making both of these pieces, each tongue-in-cheek and wistfully happy–the happiness of one thinking about what it means to be happy instead of the real thing—concertos of the highest order far more deserving of frequent performance than even that which they currently enjoy. Matsuev does a creditable job, and if I prefer Bernstein in No. 2, it’s only because of his remarkable connection to and understanding of the composer.
Shchedrin’s concerto is quite the marvel also—brisk in places, subtly impressionistic, and almost Scriabinesque in its ability to seduce the senses with the very barest of means and musical material, it is a concerto with a much higher aim than simple virtuosity, though that element is certainly present. Here Matsuev gets more of a chance to show his stuff in a romantic capacity, and he hardly disappoints. I can’t think of a more appropriate discmate than this one, and kudos to whomever decided to ultimately pair these two composers.
The Mariinsky Orchestra is not the most powerful in the world, nor the most elegant or technically proficient, but they have an innate feeling for this music and amply put it forth. The surround sound is sometimes a little variable on this label but here it is spot on and very nicely balanced. Overall this is a superb choice for this music, a disc well worth having.
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.