Olga Scheps – Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto no.1 – The Seasons: October, November – Chanson Triste – Concert Suite from The Nutcracker
Carlos Domíngues-Nieto, conductor
Olga Scheps’s Tchaikovsky is one of those recordings that seems conceived to delight the listeners’ ears with a collection of popular works. It begins in grand style with the Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor, one of the favourite piano concertos of all time of which is enough to hear the first bars of the orchestral introduction before the entry of the solo instrument to recognize it immediately and feel the sense of familiarity of those notes. After it, there are two movements (October and November) from another famous work, The Seasons, and the Chanson Triste and the album ends with a Concert Suite from one of the favourite ballets of the audiences all over the world, The Nutcracker (the arrangement for solo piano is by Mikhail Pletnev).
The feeling of familiarity and love for these works is clear in Olga Scheps’s performances too and this feature is, more than everything else, the distinguishing trait of her Tchaikovsky. She is an accomplished pianist, technically flawless and really inspired by what she is playing. The Piano Concerto, however, is not as sparkling and fabulous as one might expect, not as much for Scheps’s fault as for Carlos Domíngues-Nieto’s placid and rather routine conduction. This is hard to bear during the twenty-three minutes of the Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso, and that only slightly improves in the next two movements and in the lively Allegro con fuoco in particular. This one can be considered an Allegro indeed, but “con fuoco” definitely not and, if it were not for Scheps’s playing, the last movement would be really boring.
The good thing of Domíngues-Nieto’s conduction is that it leaves ample space to Scheps, so that she is able to characterize the Piano Concerto with a romantic nuance that is very much her own. Her sensitivity allows her to fill with grace and joy the voids of the conduction.
Ironically, it is the part of Tchaikovsky that should have been the less spectacular is the noteworthy one. October and the Chanson Triste have a vein of melancholy that finds in Scheps a natural interpreter. She performs the two works as delicate invitations to lonely contemplation. November, which is nicknamed Troika, becomes with Scheps an amusing piece, where it is easy to guess the gallop of the horses and a hint of amusement.
November anticipates the spirit of the Suite from The Nutcracker. The best thing here is that Scheps is able to recreate with just her own instrument the atmosphere of an entire orchestra, something for which it is necessary to praise Pletnev’s arrangement too. The first piece, March, is an energetic, triumphal introduction to the suite, which includes also the famous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Scheps plays the Dance in a charming way, the animated Tarantella and the even livelier Trepak, not to talk about the Chinese Dance, which Scheps plays with ironic solemnity.
The Suite from The Nutcracker is the best part of Tchaikovsky, the most varied and amusing. Therefore, it is even more regrettable that the most significant work, the Piano Concerto, is of such a ordinary quality. Olga Scheps is an accomplished pianist and it is a pleasure to listen to her, but it is paradoxical that this pleasure comes from the “minor” works rather than from the one that should have been the best one.