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Denis Matsuev’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2 on Mariinsky Label

While Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto ranks as one of the most popular ever composed, his Second has remained in its shadow and is heard comparatively rarely. It is an even bigger piece, demanding a fabulous range of expression from soloist and orchestra alike and featuring major solos, too, in the slow movement, for violin and cello. The two works make perfect companion pieces and should be recorded together more often. Denis Matsuev, a winner of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition and a frequent concerto partner of Valery Gergiev, now holds – among several posts – the title of head of the Public Council under the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. He is one heck of a player, flexing the pianistic equivalent of beefcake muscles as he thunders through Tchaikovsky’s octaves, swooshes through the first movement of the Second Concerto sweeping all before him and flashes through the scherzo-like episode of the First Concerto’s second movement with pianistic bling. But one vital thing is missing from this performance of No.1: any vestige of tenderness. It’s the Winter Olympics of music: immense display and flair, yet cold as the driven snow. No.2 shows a glimmer of heart in the slow movement’s string solos; the section leaders, violinist Stanislav Izmailov and cellist Oleg Sendetsky, seem to melt the soloist and conductor into a welcome if brief respite from hammering poor old Tchaikovsky into submission. Other than that, the effect is so ferocious as to seem positively frightening.

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2

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