Tchaikovsky: The Music for Piano and Orchestra. Jerome Lowenthal, piano; London Symphony Orchestra; Sergiu Comissiona, conductor. (Bridge 9301 A/B)
Sometimes the scholarly aspect of a recording equals—or even trumps—its musical value, and pianist Jerome Lowenthal, who has taught at Juilliard since 1991, has done Tchaikovsky lovers an inestimable service with this release (which originally appeared on Arabesque). As Lowenthal explains in his comprehensive notes, the composer’s original version of the First Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor met with disdain from pianist Nicolai Rubinstein, whose suggested changes were probably among those made by the composer in subsequent years. Fans of the piece (one of the best-known in the classical canon) will notice these edits most notably at the very beginning, where the piano’s opening chords, usually solid, are now arpeggiated.
Throughout, Lowenthal’s playing is swift and lean, letting the composer speak without adding unnecessary treacle, and his collaborators, Sergiu Comissiona and the London Symphony Orchestra, are on their toes, eager to present this labor of love in the most positive light possible. The first disc concludes with the rarely performed Concert Fantasy, originally premiered by Sergei Tanayev in 1885. Should the pianist choose to perform the first of its two movements separately, Tchaikovsky added a short coda (included here), repeating motifs from the opening.
Lowenthal is perhaps even more striking in the less familiar Concerto No. 2 in G Major (also in its first version) in which the piano and orchestra are more like effusive kindred spirits than collaborators. Lowenthal’s playing sounds even more majestic here than in the First, and the mellow violin and cello solos in the second movement are beautifully handled by the L.S.O.’s Michael Davis and Douglas Cummings, respectively. The Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, in which Lowenthal’s performance is perhaps the most powerfully expressive of the three, brings the set to a compelling conclusion. Recorded in 1987 and 1989 by Peter Bown and Chris Ludwinski at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, the sound has been remastered by Adam Abeshouse and despite the early digital source, should satisfy all but the most demanding listeners.
Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2. Vassily Primakov, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann, conductor. (Bridge 9278). Schumann: Carnaval, Kreisleriana, Arabeske. Vassily Primakov, piano. (Bridge 9300)
Just in time for the 200th anniversaries of the births of Frédéric Chopin (March 1, 1810) and Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810), one of Mr. Lowenthal’s most notable protégés at Juilliard, Vassily Primakov (who won the School’s prestigious William Petschek Piano Recital Award in 2001), has released two recordings of their works. His elegant take on the two Chopin Piano Concertos was warmly captured in Carl Nielsen Hall in Odense by Viggo Mangor, with Paul Mann leading the Odense Symphony Orchestra. In the opening of the Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Primakov shows excellent articulation, highlighting the composer’s darker, quieter colors. But the real magic happens in the second movement, disarmingly subdued yet played with pinpoint accuracy, with the orchestra lurking discreetly in the shadows. The final movement is taken at an ideal tempo, the pianist resisting the temptation to push the rhythms too hard. He shows the same care in the Second Concerto, the F minor, and here the second movement Romanze could be the centerpiece of the entire disc.
Primakov’s Schumann recording is a compilation of two of the composer’s large works and one of the smaller gems. He opens with Carnaval, Op. 9, a set of 20 short movements, in which “Papillons,” “Pantalon et Columbine,” and the tiny “Pause” race by like small comets, and the dreamy, nocturne-like “Chopin” gives listeners a preview of the pianist’s talents in the disc above. As in that recording, Primakov is perhaps most impressive in Schumann’s quieter reveries, such as the ethereal “Aveu.”
In fine contrast, the eight-movement Kreisleriana—dedicated to none other than Chopin—follows, displaying chromatic restlessness well-suited to Primakov’s intensity (such as in the third movement, marked Serh aufgeregt, or very agitated), before retreating into more thoughtful corners. To end the program, Primakov saves some of his most poignant insights for the gentle Arabeske (Op. 18). Viggo Mangor is again the perceptive engineer, working in the Odense hall, and frames Primakov’s studious thoughts with care and accuracy.