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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