Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 2.
Symphony No. 9
Andreas Boyde (pn); Johannes Fritzsch, cond; Freiburg PO
ATHENE 16 (73:34) Live: Freiburg 1/13–14/1997
Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto is generally regarded as a poor cousin to his First, but this really needn’t be so. What it takes is a pianist who is willing to make of it more than a duty to be performed or a vehicle to show merely how fast and loud it can be played (and there
are plenty of opportunities for just that). The German pianist Andreas Boyde is exactly the man for the job. Of the half dozen recordings I know of this concerto, Boyde more than any brings out the
in the notes. He obviously cares deeply about the work, shaping phrases lovingly, interpolating numerous touches of finesse and nuance, observing the dynamics in the score (and adding a few more of his own), knowing when to hold back and when to let loose.
In the right hands, Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto can be every bit as impressive as the First. In fact, it has even more massive sonorities, raging torrents of sound, better themes, more dialogue between soloist and orchestra, and is laid out on an equally large scale. In its short, “normal” version it lasts 35 minutes (same as the First) but in its expanded version it can take up to 50 minutes. I even heard one live performance (with Postnikova) that lasted just short of an hour. There are two huge cadenzas in the first movement, the second of which covers an incredible 135 measures and packs the energy of a Category 5 hurricane. What Horowitz might have made of this!
Boyde is splendidly matched by conductor Johannes Fritzsch, who is equally sympathetic to the score. Together with the excellent Freiburg Philharmonic, they make a strong case for the concerto. This is a live recording but the presence of an audience is virtually undetectable save for the applause. If you’re looking for an excuse to move on from the First Concerto, or if the recordings you already own of the Second don’t do much for you, go for this one.
Also on the program of that concert from 1997 was Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, which, like the Tchaikovsky concerto, is a lesser-known work by a famous composer and in need of a strongly persuasive performance to make its case. Here, too, the Freiburgers turn in top-notch playing and are led by a conductor who obviously believes in the music and knows how to make it come alive. Their performance fairly crackles with excitement.
FANFARE: Robert Markow
Tchaikovsky has often been described as the composer of grand light music. When I first heard this concerto forty years ago I was taken by the slow movement, where there are extended passages for a piano trio, and it reminded me of the Palm Court Orchestra and Max Jaffa. To my mind, Tchaikovsky's finest works are not the ballets or the works with 'good tunes' but the operas, chamber music and particularly his exquisite songs. He did not write well for the piano (see my interview with Peter Katin) and it is a curious thing that his most popular works are not his best works. He was, however, very fluent resulting in his music sounding very 'natural'; but he was also a superb technician particularly in remote keys e.g. the Piano Concerto No 1 is in Bb minor and the mellow Quartet no 3 is in Eb minor.
The First Piano Concerto is structurally an enigma. It begins with four minutes of that 'big tune' which is never heard again. The Second Piano Concerto is more coherent and logical and demands a pianist of exceptional skill, virtuosity and warmth. But it is not just the right notes and tempo but an understanding of this unfolding drama. Boyde makes detail come to life; he has an amazing capacity to build up long piano solos thereby making them full of interest. His cadenzas are breathtaking and the clarity of his finger work is stunning. And, thankfully, he is not a barnstorming, glamorous, athletic performer, although he generates tremendous excitement. He has enviable lyrical gifts and I have to say that, bearing in mind that this is a public performance (where one does not get a 'second chance'), it is very impressive indeed. The orchestra and conductor must also be congratulated.
The slow movement can wallow into cheap sentimentality if a strict tempo is not observed. I once read a review that stated that Tchaikovsky was inspired to write this movement after hearing the slow movement of Brahms' cherished Double Concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote his work in 1880, Brahms in 1887! In this movement Boyde and Fritzch combine effectively to prevent the music deteriorating into cheap Johann Strauss confectionary. While the performers avoid these pitfalls they also capture the warm mellowness. We have music, not an indulgence in mawkishness. There are, however, moments of tender beauty and the pianists clever timing of his entries enhances the music's expectations.
The finale Allegro con fuoco is a brilliant tour de force. Many pianists who refuse to play this concerto stating that they do not like it, are hiding the truth that they cannot play it. And this is one reason why the work stayed on the shelf for a long time. I would have preferred a stronger attack in this movement but this is more than adequately compensated for by the sparkling clearness. Then, all of a sudden, the performance explodes - a marvellous moment - and the work rushes on to an exhilarating and ruthless conclusion.
I hope Boyde may consider performing Tchaikovsky's other fine piano and orchestra work, the Concert Fantasy of 1884 also in G major. Peter Katin's unrivalled performance with Boult is still available, fortunately.
Shostakovich Symphony No 9 is sometimes maligned for being 'lightweight' but as with the unsurpassed finale of his Symphony No 6, of which Fritz Reiner's version is, by far, still the best, Shostakovich introduces a burlesque sense of humour probably to counteract the repressive Stalin regime.
I was brought up on Mravinsky's performance and so, rightly or wrongly, I judge all performances by that. Perhaps Fritzch's performance may occasionally lack some finesse but when one considers the amazing detail he reveals and his excellent control and balance this seems insignificant. There are some superlative woodwind solos and the intonation throughout is remarkably secure but I found the tempi rather cautious.
The exemplary recording greatly aids the clarity of detail.
-- David Wright, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 2 in G major, Op. 44 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Andreas Boyde (Piano)
Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Russia
Notes: Ver: Original
Symphony no 9 in E flat major, Op. 70 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1945; USSR
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