Denis Matsuev / Valery Gergiev

Shostakovich: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Shchedrin: Piano Concerto No. 5

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Shostakovich's two concertos for piano and orchestra both might be described as uncharacteristically optimistic pieces, and they have never lacked for performances and recordings. This version of the pair, plus the Piano Concerto No. 5 of Rodion Shchedrin, makes a strong choice. The star of the show is the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, its strings honed to an icy gleam that is entirely appropriate to this composer. Gergiev and hot pianist Denis Matsuev take the opening movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102, at a moderate clip, roughly equivalent to the tempo in the old reading by Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic from the keyboard. The general trend is to surround the hyper-Romantic slow movement with zippy tempi, but the opening movement reveals a lot of rhythmic details if they are given room. Matsuev reins in the emotion in the slow movement and finally depressed the gas pedal in the finale. It's an exhilarating performance that makes the concerto into much more than the pedagogical piece it is sometimes held to be, even in the booklet notes by Leonid Gakkel (the work was premiered by the composer's teenage son Maxim). The ebullient Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet, and orchestra in C minor, Op. 35, is also held nicely in check by Matsuev and Gergiev. This madcap work, alluding to music all over the Western canon and beyond, can be given a bitter tang, but Matsuev and Gergiev take him at his word that he intended it as joyous, and they have the lightness needed to pull this off. Shchedrin's concerto, lying halfway between Shostakovich and Schnittke, deserves to be better known in the West. The Mariinsky's own engineers deliver reasonable Super Audio sound, although one might want to hear more of those fabulous strings. Strongly recommended.

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