Francesco Piemontesi / Jiří Bělohlávek / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Schumann, Dvorák: Piano Concertos

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The two recordings of the program of this French release, with an Italian pianist and a Czech conductor leading English musicians, are something of an odd couple. This is not only because the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, is recorded live, while the Dvorák Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33, is a studio recording, but also because the Schumann is one of the most-recorded pieces in the piano concerto literature, while the Dvorák is rarely performed. The Dvorák concerto is often thought to be unflattering for the soloist, but pianist Francesco Piemontesi makes a good case for this early experiment in the composer's Czech-flavored Brahmsianism. Perhaps he was trying a bit too hard at this stage, but the tunes here have the desired lyricism, and Dvorák's elegant way of ending a section with a little wind choir emerges nicely under the baton of conductor Jiri Belohlávek. The Schumann is not close to the mainstream of performances of the work. The opening movement has a meditative, almost antiheroic feel, and tempo rubato is heavily applied in the slow movement in both the piano and orchestral parts. This emphasizes the explosive effect of the finale, and it may be worthwhile having a reading that differs from the common run. Naïve's live recording from the Barbican in London is very strong, but the lurch to the studio sound in the Dvorák is considerable. If it's Schumann you're after, sample extensively here, but if you like what you're getting, the Dvorák is a nice bonus.

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