Notes and Editorial Reviews
: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3.
Mvt. 1 alt ending
Jerome Lowenthal (pn); Sergiu Comissiona, cond; London SO
BRIDGE 9301 (2 CDs: 126:42)
These recordings are not new. They appeared originally on two separate Arabesque label CDs (6583 and 6611) in 1987 and 1989, respectively. Bridge has remastered them and is
to be commended for providing a detailed credits page that cites the model numbers of the Steinway pianos used and the names of virtually every individual involved in the productions.
Jerome Lowenthal (b. 1932) has distinguished himself, not only as a consummate keyboard artist, but also as a bit of an iconoclast, a thinking man’s pianist, if you will. His pedigree is impeccable: student of William Kapell, Edward Steurermann, Alfred Cortot, and Arthur Rubinstein; winner of international competitions in Bolzano, Darmstadt, and Brussels; appearances with countless major orchestras and conductors; and longtime instructor at Juilliard. Yet the path Lowenthal has followed, at least on recordings, is not one that has been heavily traveled by many of his peers, a point underscored by this release; for these performances evidence a penchant for exploring familiar works in unfamiliar versions.
Everyone, of course, knows Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B? Minor, or at least they think they do. But anyone hearing Lowenthal’s recording would wonder if their ears weren’t playing them tricks. When Tchaikovsky played through his as-yet-unpublished concerto for Nikolai Rubinstein in 1875, the famous pianist sat in stony silence for several minutes before launching into a torrent of abuse. The composer, shocked, angry, and deeply hurt, wrote a letter to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, describing the incident in a painful blow-by-blow account. And in a petulant pique, he resolved to publish the work as it stood, refusing to alter a single note. Then, distancing himself as far as he could from Rubinstein, and indeed from Moscow, Tchaikovsky offered the premiere to Hans von Bülow, who accepted the invitation and gave the first performance of the unaltered work in Boston on October 25, 1875.
But by 1888, Tchaikovsky had revised his original score several times, adopting virtually all of Rubinstein’s recommendations to arrive at the final version we know today. Some of the revisions involve subtle changes to the orchestration that pass by almost unnoticed, while other alterations are quite dramatic. In the revised version, for example, block chords in the piano replace the arpeggios that accompany the big opening melody in the strings.
Even as he continued to tinker with his first concerto, Tchaikovsky was already working on a second, which he completed in 1880. By this time, Rubinstein and the composer had kissed and made up, and as reciprocal peace offerings, Rubinstein promised to premiere the new concerto if Tchaikovsky dedicated it to him. Unfortunately, Rubinstein reneged on the deal when he died before the premiere could be scheduled. So once again, another work by Tchaikovsky received its first performance on American turf, this time by the New York Philharmonic and pianist Madeline Schiller. The G-Major Concerto never really caught on with the public the way the B?-Minor Concerto did. Perhaps the problem is its episodic nature and the sense that it’s less a concerto than a sequence of solo mini-cadenzas broken up by orchestral interludes.
The E?-Major Piano Concerto is one of Tchaikovsky’s most problematic works. It caused the composer serious misgivings and was never really completed in the form he would have liked. He continued to work on it throughout 1893, the year of his death, even after completing the “Pathetique” Symphony. As it stands today—and as it’s heard here—it’s usually just the first movement, an Allegro brilliante, that’s played.
in G-Major dates from 1884, and is another of Tchaikovsky’s works that underwent an unsettled genesis. What finally emerged was a two-movement piano concerto, but one in which the first movement could be played as a stand-alone concert piece. To that end, Tchaikovsky provided a substantial coda to be appended to the end of the first movement. Lowenthal plays the full two-movement version, but includes the coda on track 6 of disc 1, designating it an alternate ending.
Lowenthal is a wonderful pianist, secure in technique and solid in musical sensibilities. If he is perhaps not quite as electrifying in the B?-Minor Concerto as Cliburn, Horowitz, and Argerich, his performance offers as compensation the infrequent opportunity to hear the work in its original version, which goes as well for the G-Major Concerto and the
. Excellent remastering and a twofer price add to the attractiveness of this release and make it easily recommendable.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1874 - 1875).
Concerto for Piano no 2 in G major, Op. 44 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Jerome Lowenthal (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Russia
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