Search - Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Sergey Rachmaninov, Arcadi Volodos :: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1: Rachmaninoff: Solo Piano Works [Hybrid SACD]

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1: Rachmaninoff: Solo Piano Works [Hybrid SACD]
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Sergey Rachmaninov, Arcadi Volodos
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1: Rachmaninoff: Solo Piano Works [Hybrid SACD]
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1

Here the big-toned Arcadi Volodos takes on one of the most familiar masterpieces of the piano repertoire, the Tchaikovsky First. It's a piece that is so familiar we tend not to listen to it very carefully, but Volodos find...  more »


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Here the big-toned Arcadi Volodos takes on one of the most familiar masterpieces of the piano repertoire, the Tchaikovsky First. It's a piece that is so familiar we tend not to listen to it very carefully, but Volodos finds subtleties and emphasizes interesting ideas. The expected power is there--the opening chords could knock you over--but he's wonderfully insightful in the softer passages and the middle movement is ethereal in the extreme; he also finds a certain pointillistic lyricism in the finale before he returns to the potency of his opening statement. The six Rachmaninov solos show varied sides of both the composer and Volodos: Mélodie is as peaceful as Volodos' own arrangement of the Polka italienne is wild--it fairly bursts out of the speakers. The Tchaikovsky was recorded live and the forward sound is a bit aggressive but exciting; Seiji Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic are as impressive as the pianist. Recommended. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

Volodos plays brilliant, tender Tchaikovksy First Piano Cto
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 11/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Hats off to all concerned! The truly phenomenal Arcady Volodos finally gets around to recording the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, with the Berlin Philharmonic led by conductor Seiji Ozawa. Recorded live, there is nary a squeak of intrusive audience noise, until the entire Philharmonie audience explodes in waves of applause at the end of the concerto. While this certainly lets the listener in, on the frisson of the live concert; I would actually have much preferred to omit the audience all together, deserved as their recognition no doubt was on that occasion. Repeated hearings of their applause will only irritate me, since after all the truth of the matter is that I was not there, and I am not there, now, listening to the disc. Emphasizing the allegro aspect of the marked tempo, Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso, Ozawa and the orchestra immediately serve notice that there will be no excessive slowing down and speeding up, just to make the musical equivalent of written italics. Given the sheer technique that Volodos commands, no longer the sheer tight-rope of athletic surprise that it was on first hearing, you can surmise that the concerto will not present him with physical challenges beyond his means. By now, however, so many young and not so young pianists have conquered the technical heights of the concerto, the pressing questions in our mind (and our ears) must all have to do with whether or not the flash of athletics is adding up to music. While at first downbeat, Ozawa's tempo seems brisk, it settles in quite nicely and allows the great Tchaikovksy melodies to be sung out in great paragraphs with sometimes subtle or polished phrasing, especially elicited from the luscious BPO strings. The brass and woodwinds are eloquent, too. In this multichannel SACD recording, the brass can be captured farther back from the microphones, usually melded with the overall orchestra, without losing an ounce of their color or edge. Volodos, despite his immense technique, masterfully discloses the musical values involved in every flourish, trill, and octave run. The lyrical parts are almost better than the rest, just because Volodos can manage one of the sweetest, most velvety-silvery-voiced sotto voce pianissimos now available to the public from among the trainloads of performing concert pianists. For my part, although I suppose I am admitting my own prejudices, I will take Volodos over Thibaudet, any day. His technique is superior, of course, without dismissing other pianists which achieve adequacies enough for the music they play. With Volodos, however, the dangers are all related to excess of technique, meaning that he is ever challenged to lay out the musical genius of the repertoire he plays, even though he must surely be tempted to just have a good, fast jog around the mountains on some days. Fortunately for us, Volodos fills out the disc with various solo piano pieces, mostly by Rachmaninoff, recorded in the studio. These, if anything, are even more wonderful than the concerto at hand. Finally, the last solo piano work is a transcription Volodos has made from an almost unknown Rachmaninoff Polka italienne. Here again, although there is an embarrasing abundance of sheer physical capacity on display, what wins out is the overwhelming musical wit and fun that Volodos has written into his transcription without violating the admittedly lighter substance of the original. Will Sony every just let this guy loose, freely, on the music he so patently loves? His solo Schubert album was a true musical revelation. I still nominate it for one of the best Schubert discs, as well as one of the best piano discs, of all recorded music to date. Now these filler Rachmaninoff selections suggest that a genre-themed few discs of solo Rachmaninoff would show just how much this music has to offer us, musically. Listening to Volodos play Rachmaninoff preludes or the moment musical, you completely forget all the golden age nostalgia and romantic swooning that passes for performances of these works these days, all in favor of discovering something like the genius of the expatriot Russian composer, whole. Volodos solves, overcomes, and surpasses every difficulty, including the siren-songed dilemmas inherent in his own technical facility. He lets music he loves speak, as Beethoven wrote once, from the human heart to the human heart. Highly recommended, stars."
Splendid Pianism Sabotaged by Lousy Sound
David A. Kemp | Plano, TX USA | 09/29/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Arcadi Volodos has everything it takes to deliver a stunning performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto, and this could have been it, but unfortunately it's not, through no fault of Volodos. This CD makes me angry--not at Volodos, who acquits himself admirably, but at Sony. If a Grammy were awarded for worst-engineered classical CD of the year, this one would be a contender: it has the worst orchestral sound I have heard from a major classical label in years. And it's all the harder to understand because Volodos's superb Rachmaninoff Third was also a live performance (June 1999) recording with the Berlin Philharmonic in the Berlin Philharmonie, just like this one (June 2002), also on Sony, and it certainly isn't afflicted with the engineering problems of this CD. (Different engineering teams recorded the two concertos.) I wonder if there is something about Sony's hybrid CD/SACD process that caused the problems (the far-better-sounding Rachmaninoff Third is not a hybrid CD/SACD disc like this one). (Let me stipulate that I'm listening on a conventional two-channel stereo CD system, not SACD, although my system is a reference-quality one. Let me also add that I am an audiophile, and that those who are indifferent to the quality of recorded sound can discount much of this review.)

Whatever the reason, the orchestral sound here is conspicuously bad. The in-house reviewer described it euphemistically: "The forward sound is aggressive but exciting." In fact it's a lot worse than that: "hot," harsh, thick, muddy, and congested, with poor clarity and resolution of detail, with little sense of space and separation across a stereo soundstage (it seems to be clotted centerstage), and when the orchestra gets loud, the sound gets nasty, with a hard, harsh, ugly glare. We sense we're in trouble from the very beginning, with a loud opening orchestral tutti that made me wince (although the piano sounds fine). The stringed instruments have that strung-with-steel-wires hardness and metallic edge. I'm surprised Sony would release a new CD as poorly engineered as this one is. I have no fault to find with Volodos, a pianist I admire; his playing is as fluent and expressive as one could wish. (I posted a rave review of his Rachmaninoff Third.) But for me this disc is done in by the lousy sound; I can't listen to it with pleasure, and there is just no excuse for a modern piano concerto recording to sound like this. If you care about the quality of recorded orchestral sound, I'm afraid this CD is one to avoid.

As with his Rachmaninoff Third, this CD is filled out with six short pieces by Rachmaninoff, and as with that CD, these pieces are pleasant fillers of no great weight which Volodos plays handsomely. (Also as with the Rachmaninoff Third, these pieces are studio recordings and sound fine.) The real treat, however, is the seventh short piece, Volodos's own "concert paraphrase" of Rachmaninoff's Polka italienne. This one is great fun, a rip-roaring Horowitz-style virtuoso transcription which runs the gamut from fleet-fingered delicate filigree to thunder. Volodos sounds like he's having a wonderful time playing it. He is a notable transcriber as well as player of transcriptions, and anyone who liked his spectacular debut Sony CD of transcriptions is sure to enjoy this track.

There are other, nonmusical, more minor annoyances. This is the first classical CD I've ever seen that has no timings anywhere for its various tracks (not in the booklet, not on the backside of the case). Was this just a careless oversight? The total playing time, which is provided, is 54:27, short measure by today's standards, despite the makeweights. The liner notes are of the gushing, self-serving, occasionally silly kind. (Here's a sample: "Volodos is a powerhouse--a veritable one-man orchestra himself. The sheer sonority he rings [sic] from the piano is so visceral that you can feel it as well as hear it in this recording. It resonates through the body like thunder." Hmmm.) Finally, someone at Sony had the brainchild of photographing Volodos standing in an empty, abandoned warehouse, with light coming in through the dirty, streaked, broken windows. These dirty, streaked, broken windows are then used as the recurring visual motif throughout the case and booklet. There are only two problems with this choice of artwork: first, it's unappealing and ugly; second, it has nothing to do with Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Volodos, or the piano. Pointless, tasteless, irrelevant.

To sum up, Volodos deserves better than he gets in this shoddy, half-baked production. Caveat emptor--and poor show, Sony!
One of the best
T. Sang | San Francisco | 01/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"We all know Van Cliburn's famous for his performance on Tchaikovsky's No.1. And I must say he is great beyond any doubt. However, after I have listened to Volodos, I can't help but my jaw dropped, and stunned. His clarity is absolutely fabulous, unbeatable. Unlike some (Cliburn, for one) who "swallow" lots of notes, sacrifice them for sheer speed, Volodos combine clarity with nerve breaking speed, articulate them so well you'll be totally breathless! The third movement: Allegro Con Fuoco, is my favorite. Powerfully played and with the whole Volodos there. I love his expert interpretation and the musical quality. The second movement is beautifully played and I have to say, quite romantic, provides a sharp contrast with the first movement. About the recording, this SACD can be played on normal CD player. That's why they call it hybrid SACD. It's a high quality recording with a nice sound stage, even on a normal CD player. GET IT NOW!"