Virtuoso dash and daredevil virtuosity come leaping out of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 as soon as this performance at Russia’s most famous music festival gets under way. The young soloist is Ingolf Wunder, winner of the second prize at the Chopin International Piano Competition 2010 and lucky enough to have been snapped up by Deutsche Grammophon afterwards. The conductor is the veteran maestro and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, whose feel for tempo is unerring, giving the Tchaikovsky’s great opening melody plenty of swing and swagger.
He and Wunder admittedly do not seem to be in perfect agreement at all times, but that slight sense of edgy tension is part of the fun of live recordings; and the freshness of Wunder’s playing is well-nigh irresistible. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, he seems to say, zipping through Tchaikovsky’s pyrotechnics as if this is the easiest thing in the world.
The Chopin concerto, though, is a fine counterbalance – especially the slow movement, a perfect nocturnal song without words from the youthful Polish composer, who adored bel canto opera. Wunder’s legato tone and gorgeous feel for phrasing make the piano’s melodic line sound, quite simply, like a singer. This quality is Chopin’s ultimate challenge, far beyond all that fingerwork, and he meets it marvellously. The orchestra’s style is rather full-on in this concerto, which could use subtler playing; Russian-sounding Chopin is a tad paradoxical. But the thrill of the live concert, and those special moments of magic, make this a must-hear disc.