A classic Tchaikovsky Second Concerto, plus astonishing Rich
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The reissue gods are smiling. This bargain Gemini two-fer contains four superlative concerto recordings--the Tchaikovsky Second and Third with Gilels, the Prokofiev Fifth and Bartok Second with Richter. The conductor throughout is Lorin Maazel, definitely on best behavior, and the orchestras vary between the LSO (Prokofiev), New Philharmonia (Tchaikovsky), and the Orchestre de Paris (Bartok). EMI's early Seventies analog sound is bright and forward. The perspective on the piano is natural with Gilels, but as usual, Richter asked to be miked more up close.
Gilels had already made a magisterial Tchaikovsky First with Reiner in 1955 (RCA) when he first stormed West out of Russia, and he would go on to make one just as great in 1980 with Mehta (Sony). This version from 1973 is let down by Maazel's less-than-committed acompaniment, which moves too glibly and quick in the first movement especially. But the Second and Third Concertos are another story. Gilels makes the best case ever for the former work, despite the usual cuts. Maazel livens up, giving us springy rhythms and elegance, while Gilels is polished marble and power. I will be satisfied to own this one version for life, I'm sure.
On CD 2, Richter returns to one of his favorites, the Prokofiev Fifth concdrto, which he had already recorded in 1959 to universal acclaim--this was his time to roar out of Russia and astonish the West. This remake offers somewhat different tempos but the same astonishing solo work. For me, the main distinction is Maazel's razor-sharp, brilliant conducting and the virtuoso playing of the London Sym., wwhich far surpasses the earlier reading on DG. The same holds true for the Bartok Second, where Richter takes a fiendishly difficult, percussive piano part and makes it speak and sing as never before. Pollini is equally riveting in this work but not nearly as approachable. Officially, Richter never recorded the two most popular concertos from these composers, the Prokofiev and Bartok Third. That's a shame, but these great recordings, along with Gilels's' contribution, make this an unmissable bargain."
A posthumous coupling of two antagonists
Anton Zimmerling | Moscow, Russia | 01/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Gemini EMI set (actually, a reissue of a former Double Forte item) offers a bizarre collection of Gilels's and Richter's recordings, which would certainly annoy them both. A posthumous pairing of Richter and Gilels in an almost all-Russian set reflects a British taste and a Western marketing perspective: in Russia, it is different categories of people, who buy Richter and Gilels. These two great pianists not only hated each other, but also disapproved a great deal in their rival's repertory. I doubt that Gilels would record Bartók's 2nd concerto in studio, and I am sure that Richter would not even touch Tchaikovsky's 2nd and 3rd concertos. It is Lorin Maazel and his EMI contract, that unite Richter and Gilels on this 2CD-set. I take the point made by the fellow reviewer that Maazel's conducting of the LSO and Orchestre de Paris (in Richter's recordings)is a greater success than his cooperation with the New Philharmonia (in Gilels's recordings).
Actually, each part of the collection has its merits: the recordings of Tchaikovsky's 2nd and 3rd concertos are rather rare, and both Richter's recordings included in this set rate among the best versions in the discography of Bartók's 2nd concerto (Sz. 95, and not Sz. 83, as mistakenly identified on the CD) and Prokofiev's 5th. It is perhaps not a bad idea to grab both for a cheap price. I wonder, however, how many people, except for professional music critics, would listen to all this with an equal interest.
My own taste is on Richter's side. I am not enthusiastic about Tchaikovsky's 2nd and 3rd concertos and will keep silent about the performance. As far as I know, there is a Pletnev/Fedoseev version of all three concertos plus Concert Phantasy in G, Op. 56: it is available on Virgin Veritas for an even cheaper price. Tchaikovsky's 1st concerto is so overplayed that it is like bad health for me: one notices the difference, when something goes wrong. I have heard so many bad and mediocre Tchaikovsky's Firsts in concert that I don't want to rate any successful versions. Here you get a modern and dry account, free from pompous excesses. I hear a soloist with a high piano culture. But I am not charmed. As Santa Fe listener correctly states in his review, Gilels is miked more naturally than Richter, not too close to the piano.
Bartók's 2nd concerto and Prokofiev's Fifth are the real gems of this collection. That Richter agreed to record them proves that he thought high of the music: he refused to play some Beethoven concertos, let alone most XX century concertos. Richter had some concerns about Bartók's style, too. But here his playing is extremely convinced. I especially admire Richter's impassioned approach to the slow movement - the devilish scherzo in the central episode and rhapsodic fortissimo chords in the conclusion. Maazel is a very able and sensitive partner and a fine colorist: both the string and the brass sections of the Orchestre de Paris sound really impressive. In the final movement Maazel does not reach the rhythmic tension of Ferenc Fricsay (see his legendary version with Géza Anda on DG 447 399-2), but who does? I love Richter's version from the LP time - it was my first acquaintance with Bartók's concerto. Despite of it, I now find Fricsay-Anda's version equally powerful, but more profound and exact than Maazel-Richter. But then...Why treat them as alternatives, if you love great music-making? Buy both: on Fricsay-Anda CD you will find two other Bartók concertos, and on this CD-set you will get Prokofiev with Richter.
As for Prokofiev's 5th concerto w. Richter-Maazel, it is simply the best recording of this music. Later versions (cf. Ashkenazy-Previn or Krainev-Kitayenko) are tame and lifeless. Both Richter and Maazel perform the score with an excitement. Their cooperation is especially fine in the first two movements: the opening Allegro has many abrupt modulations from major to minor, which might seem banal, if they are articulated less sharply than here. The second movement is a fascinating hybrid of a crazy gavotte and a hooligan march, and Maazel promptly responds with brass fanfares and high woodwinds to Richter's deliberately stumbling pace and his dashing glissandi (track 3 on CD 2, around [2'12] and [3'57]).
Recommended - with the caveats expressed above. The price is simply unbeatable. For Richter's collectors I can add that these Prokofiev and Bartók recordings were recently included in the EMI 14 CD set `Icon - Sviatoslav Richter'.