Yefim Bronfman / Mariss Jansons

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 4

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Considering his pedigree, it's hard to know why Russian-born virtuoso Yefim Bronfman hasn't recorded Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto before this. He is, after all, a pianist who has recorded most of the Russian standard piano repertoire: concertos by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich plus Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and even Stravinsky "Trois Mouvements" from Pétrouchka. But it took until this 2007 Sony disc for him to get to Tchaikovsky's First, the godfather of all Russian concertos. In the event, the results are grand in scale but surprisingly shallow in effect. Bronfman has the technique to bring the work off: fortissimo 10-fingered chords, double octaves in contrary motion, and sixty-fourth notes runs for both hands all sound suitably thrilling. But the work's more tender passages, its more lyrical themes, and especially its gorgeous Andantino semplice, while all pretty, are curiously inexpressive.

Accompanying Bronfman is Mariss Jansons and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. In 1990, Jansons had led the Leningrad Philharmonic in accompanying Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy in the Tchaikovsky, and then as now, the results are coolly professional and thoroughly engaging. The powerful build up to the first movement's climax and the second movement's sweet solo winds and charming pizzacato strings are only the best examples of their playing: Jansons is clearly far deeper under the skin of the music than is Bronfman, and one only wishes he were accompanying a more sympathetic pianist. But the disc's coupling -- a brilliantly polished and amazingly passionate performance of the same composer's Fourth Symphony -- not only more than makes up for the concerto's flaws, it is a spectacular performance on its own and well worth hearing even by listeners who aren't attracted to Bronfman's way with the concerto. Sony's digital sound is cool, clear, and colorful.

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