A new CD of Tchaikovsky’s oft-recorded Piano Concerto No. 1 might seem redundant, but Russian-born Kirill Gerstein’s recording is unique. It’s the first employing Tchaikovsky’s original 1879 version, the only one heard during the composer’s lifetime.
That score was revised soon after Tchaikovsky’s death, influenced by virtuoso pianists wanting something showier. It’s been the basis for every performance and recording since. Now Russian researchers have published the composer’s original, a gentler and less bombastic scoring with striking differences in tempo, dynamics and emphasis.
The most noticeable change is the piano’s opening set of repeating chords, which sound less insistent and are played as arpeggios. Other differences include fleeter pacing and fewer intense outbursts.
Gerstein plays precisely, with easy facility and warm tone. Conductor James Gaffigan and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin adjust to the original score’s differences while still providing vibrant accompaniment.
For those who feel they’ve heard this famous work too often or who find most performances over the top, this recording should provide a gratifying alternative. For those steeped in the standard approach from so many famous interpreters, this version may not satisfy.
The CD’s companion piece is Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, an appropriate choice because Prokofiev greatly admired Tchaikovsky’s music. In this performance, Gerstein and Gaffigan take an approach similar to the Tchaikovsky, rounding off Prokofiev’s angularity and softening his spikiness. Although there are arresting introspective and lyrical passages, this smoothing out drains much of the excitement and power this concerto can elicit.
Correspondent Roy C. Dicks
Tchaikovsky 1, Prokofiev 2