Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Theme and Variations; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 and Suggestion diabolique; Balakirev: Islamey.  Andrei Gavrilov, piano; Riccardo Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra; Simon Rattle, London Symphony Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 86881-1.

I suppose there's an advantage to getting older. It seems like just yesterday that young Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov recorded these items, and you had to pay full price to get them on separate vinyl LP's. Now Gavrilov is over thirty years older (while the rest of us have obviously remained the same), and we can buy both recordings on a single budget-priced CD. Time does pay its dividends.

The album leads off with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, probably because of the two piano concertos included it's the better known and the bigger draw, but it's really the Prokofiev that rewards the listener the most. The Tchaikovsky is certainly big and energetic, as it should be, with a somewhat overly dramatic opening movement, a sweetly hushed second movement, and thrillingly dynamic conclusion. Yet  EMI's 1979 sound (digitally remastered in 1985) places the piano a bit close, and the overall balance is rather midrange heavy. Although the result may not be entirely natural or realistic, it's all right.

The Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1, on the other hand, is brilliant throughout, Gavrilov in the first movement zipping all over the map, astounding audiences in his day as much as when performers were first confounding listeners with the piece in the early part of the twentieth century. Then Gavrilov moves gracefully into the rhapsodic second movement and back again to the turbulent and triumphant finale. The recording, which EMI made in 1977 and digitally remastered in 1992, sounds better balanced than the Tchaikovsky, the piano seems better integrated into the whole, and the bass is fuller.

Gavrilov plays the various solo pieces coupled to the piano concertos exceptionally well, too (and it's a wonder the pianist had any fingers left after the Balakirev), making this cheapie disc an instant best-buy.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa