Notes and Editorial Reviews
Schiff's delicate approach puts the concerto more in the tradition of Schumann, rather than seeking the flamboyance of Liszt, and the Chicago orchestra's sustained pianissimos are superb.
The striking difference between this new Schiff version of Tchaikovsky's B flat minor Concerto and the recent Pogorelich account on DG is emphasized by the Decca recording balance, which places the mellow-timbred piano more backwardly (and more naturally, though not more effectively) within the kindly ambience of Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The orchestra too is set back, and while the famous opening is bold enough, the strings are essentially warm and smooth. But the effect is much less spectacularly brilliant. (The Argerich/DG version
too has more impact and is nearer in balance to Pogorelich than Schiff.) Schiff's approach to the work overall puts the concerto more in the romantic tradition of Schumann, than seeking the flamboyant extroversion of the Lisztian inheritance and it is summed up by his playing in the opening movement's two cadenzas. The first comes immediately after the first climax of the development and here Pogore lich is assertively self-indulgent, playing havoc with the forward momentum (one reason his overall timing is 23' 18" against Schiff's 19' 55"). Schiff's introspection lets the music flow on, but here as in the main cadenza the playing itself has far less charisma. Both he and Solti make the very most of the lyricism of the secondary material and many listeners may well respond to the lack of barnstorming.
At the opening of the Andantino, Solti is very gentle indeed creating a pianopianissimo in the pizzicato strings, with the flute solo played pianissimo rather than the piano marked by the composer. Schiff is fastidiously delicate in his articulation and the scherzando middle section is as light as thistledown. The finale too, even if the reprise of the big tune at the end is quite strong and the orchestral tuttis bold enough, has an essentially light-weight dance-like character and the famous running octave passages near the end are articulated with precision rather than seeking to engulf the listener with their fervour. In short, the overall approach seems underpowered, although it is highly musical. It in no way, however, displaces Argerich as first choice and is far less dramatic than Pogorelich.
The Schiff/Solti partnership works admirably in the pastiche of the engaging Dohnanyi Variations which act as coupling (on LP they follow the finale of the concerto on Side 2). Solti creates a full head of steam for the dramatic opening and throughout Schiff's neat, crisp articulation is matched by the witty orchestral detail. Whether or not the microphone balance was altered for this work, or it is simply the tellingly precise Dohnanyi orchestration that makes the difference, the overall effect is clearer here than in the Tchaikovsky where the reverberation at times brings a lack of internal sharpness (this may of course be improved on the CD). Solti's lyrical climaxes have a more pungent fervour than on the earlier HMV version by Ortiz and Koizumi, and perhaps that performance has a greater degree of innocence in its approach. However, there is no doubt that the strong characterization of the Decca version is very telling. The playing of the Chicago orchestra is superb throughout both works and I must especially commend their sustained pianissimos in the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky.
-- Gramophone [10/1986]
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
András Schiff (Piano)
Sir Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1874 - 1875).
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