TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in b-flat minor, Op. 23 (CW53) – 1879 version (world premiere recording); PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 16 – Krill Gerstein p., Detaches Symphony Orchestra of Berlin/ James Gaffigan – Myrios Classics multichannel SACD MYR016, 65:25 (3/10/15) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
This new recording the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 is notable because it’s the first recording of of the piece that is claimed to be truest to the composer’s intentions. Since 1894, the Concerto has been published and performed in a version containing numerous unauthorized editorial alterations that were added posthumously. This recording of the 1879 version of the Piano Concerto – the version that was approved and conducted by Tchaikovsky until his last public appearance in 1893 is of musical and historical note.
The disc also contains Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, a work influenced heavily by Tchaikovsky, so the pairing makes sense.
Listening to the Tchaikovsky is an interesting experience. At once, the work is completely familiar and yet there are subtle differences in voicings, dynamics, and chord transpositions. It brings the work a freshness beyond the variations you hear in individual performances, most of which are based on posthumous changes, where this edition closely matches the composer’s intentions. There are extensive notes in the CD booklet detailing the changes to the piece in this performance.
The performances are dazzling. The playing by Gerstein and the Deutches Symphony Orchestra under James Gaffigan is precise and musical. The 5.0 SACD layer is rendered beautifully, with a tasteful amount of hall ambiance while leaving the positions of the instruments and piano nicely etched between the front two speakers. The recording was done in June of 2014 at the Funkhaus Berlin Nalepastrasse.
The Prokofiev is of equal high quality, both in terms of the recording and the performance, but it doesn’t have the historical interest of the Tchaikovsky. Still, If I had to choose among the best performances of this work, this recording would certainly make the list.
I also auditioned the CD layer, which sounds excellent as well, but the two- channel mix lacks the presence and impact of the SACD tracks. I think the SACD brings a bit of increased dynamics, and the realism of capturing some of the recording venue. I expect this recording will trigger much conversation among music students and listeners, but the scholarship applied seems to be on solid ground.
Even without the debate over Tchaikovsky’s intentions, the disc brings us two fine performances of these familiar works, and I don’t think having the Tchaikovsky score ‘backdated’ is a negative at all. It’s a fascinating listen.