Chamber Music and Concerto highlights
Pianists: Tatiana Kolesova, Konstantin Shamray,
Ran Dank, Charlie Albright, Hoang Pham
ABC 476 6960 (4-CD)
TPT: exceeding four hours
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Mozart: Piano Concertos K466 in D minor; K595 in B flat major
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos No 2 in G minor; No 3 in C major
Beethoven: Piano Trio in B flat major, opus 97 (Archduke)
Brahms: Piano Trio in B major, opus 8
Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D minor, opus 49
During the early years of the 20th century, recitals given by Polish pianist Ignaz Paderewski drew immense audiences. No musician since Liszt was as widely known as this striking figure with his immense shock of red hair and powerful stage presence. He was the equivalent of today’s rock stars. He earned a ton of money and was lionised wherever he went.
This was the triumph of spin over substance, the elevation of a second-rater to demi-god-like status.
It could never happen now. In Paderewski’s day, there was nothing like the avalanches of music recordings (most of them of fine quality) that now routinely flood on to the market. So there were far fewer opportunities in Paderewski’s day for concertgoers to assess his worth in relation to recordings by other, far worthier, musicians. He got away with musical murder then. He could never do so now.
A 4-CD pack devoted to performances by laureates of the 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition demonstrates unequivocally why Paderewski (and a host of other early 20th century pianists) would never have stood a chance in a contest where the least accomplished SIPC competitor would have been vastly more convincing than Paderewski whose accomplishments included a stint as prime minister of Poland.
Perhaps the greatest factor contributing to the ever-rising professional standards of pianists – and other instrumentalists and singers – around the world is the flood of fine recordings that have come onto the market. Inevitably, the many fine performances enshrined on compact discs is have raised expectations by listeners who would certainly not be conned nowadays compared to the state of affairs that pertained when Paderewski would routinely be received like musical royalty wherever he went.
Listen to Konstantin Shamray in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor. The skill with which he conveys the poetic, dreamlike nature of the piano part that ushers in and closes the first movement is that of an arrived master. And midway, he is no less convincing in evoking the essence of Prokofiev’s starkly abrupt, striding measures. I listened in wonder to the virtuosic brilliance with which he steers a sure way through the musical minefield that is the scherzo.
And in Prokofiev’s much better-known Piano Concerto No 3 in C, Ran Dank sounds perfectly suited to its challenges, especially the opening andante-allegro where his playing oscillates between nimble, filigree-delicacy to virile poundings. Dank rises wonderfully to the challenges of the theme and variations. Here, Dank is invariably positioned at the emotional epicentre of the writing. The playing radiates joie de vivre. Dank is no less persuasive in the finale where there is a joyful coming-to-grips with the score.
There’s an abundance of chamber music here with Charlie Albright a particularly bright musical star in Beethoven’s Archduke Trio with Dimity Hall (violin) and Julian Smiles (cello).
This generous, 4-CD pack includes two Mozart concertos as well as chamber works by Brahms, Mendelssohn and Ravel.