Tchaikovsky & Chopin
Ingolf Wunder, piano
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2014
This album, featuring pianist Ingolf Wunder under the conduction of another pianist in the not unusual (for him) shoes of a conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazi, was live recorded at St. Petersburg White Nights in June 2012 and released by Deutsche Grammophon two years later. The programme is divided between two of the most famous piano concertos written in the 19th century: the Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky between 1874 and 1875 and revised in the summer of 1879 and in December 1888 and dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, and the Concerto no. 1 in E minor that Frédéric Chopin composed in 1830 immediately after the premiere of the Concerto no. 2 and shortly before leaving Poland (the odd numbering is due to the inverted order of publication of the two works).
From a general point of view, it is to be noticed that it is with a similar spirit that Ashkenazi and Wunder perform the two concertos with a perfect balance between great technique and inspiration but above all in a way that give prominence to the luminosity and to the positive feelings the two works arouse, so that the passages where pessimism or sadness are present become a starting point to reach a happier vision of life. This is maybe easier to understand in Chopin’s concerto, where the rather gloomy beginning of the first movement (Allegro maestoso) is completely different from the contagious and refined liveliness, spiced with a bit of irony, of the last (Rondo. Vivace). Tchaikovsky’s concerto is a different matter and, although it shares the cheerful character of the other, it is developed in a more dreamy and delicate way, in accordance to the sensibility that characterizes the works of the Russian composer. Here it is worth remember at least the wonderful development of the introductory theme from the part of Ashkenazy and the accents of vagueness and enchantment he is able to obtain from the orchestra, so that the music seems to flow endlessly. Ashkenazy is also notable for the energetic manner with which he conducts both concertos and especially the endings as that of the third movement of this same concerto, the irresistible Allegro con fuoco that is also one of the best moments to hear how the orchestra and the piano echo and follow each other in complete harmony and with what seems a genuine enthusiasm.
This album is therefore intriguing and very well performed and it will be good to listen to it as an escapist or engaged listening as well.