Ivo Pogorelich (LSO – Claudio Abbado) – Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky) (1986)

FrontCover1Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, concerto for piano and orchestra by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The work is particularly famed for the sequence of pounding chords with which the soloist’s part launches the first movement. The piece premiered in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 25, 1875.

Possessing limited piano skills, Tchaikovsky wrote the concerto intending to persuade a colleague to give the premiere performance. He first approached Nikolay Rubinstein, a pianist and the director of the Moscow Conservatory at which Tchaikovsky taught. Rubinstein condemned the work as badly written and refused to play it unless substantial changes were made. Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky1declined to revise the piece and offered it instead to the German virtuoso Hans von Bülow, who, finding more to admire than had Rubinstein, agreed to perform it. The premiere, given during an American tour, was an immediate success, and the piece soon became equally popular in Europe. In the face of the new concerto’s undeniable success, Rubinstein withdrew his earlier criticism. He agreed to conduct the Moscow premiere and even made the concerto part of his own repertory.

The first movement opens with a bold horn call heralding a series of powerful chords from the soloist. The strings introduce an expansive theme, which is then taken up by the piano. The second movement, by contrast, is languid, with lighter use of the orchestral instruments. For the finale, Tchaikovsky offers a rondo with various alternating melodies, some of which are heard more than once, and ends by returning to the powerful driven energy of the opening. (by Betsy Schwarm)

Claudio AbbadoThere must be over 100 versions of this concerto in the catalogue by now; though many (thankfully) out of print. I must have heard and owned at least 30 of these over the years; and again half of those did not last the distance. In the end I tend to return to Gilels/Reiner or Richter/Karajan. They are not conspicuously “the best”, but the first is unashamedly virtuosic and the latter rather serious, treating it like a great work of art. Tchaikovsky can take these vagaries of treatment without damage. Too many of the other recordings sound to me like a dozen eggs in one basket.
This is where Pogo and Abbado turned out to be a surprise packet. I bought it from my old habit of filling up a hole in my collection. The pianist was very young then, but already (as I discovered) a bit of a “thinker”. He must have really thought over what he was going to do with this old warhorse on his dash into the big world of recording artists. The result is something very fresh sounding, and although the differences to routine seem slight at each point they occur, eventually they add up to a whole and unusual PressPic1perspective. This is not to be confused with eccentricity. It’s nothing more than placing emphases in novel and unexpected spots. The lyricism is the really strong factor of virtue in this recording. It is clearly heartfelt, not just doodled along, and you can hear it. None of the virtuoso passage stand out as bravura; they are never thundered, but occupy their moment in the logical flow of the whole. Climaxes are musical, a rare accomplishment!
It helps, of course, to have a magnificent instrument like the Chicago Symphony behind you, and Abbado is a very congenial and sympathetic accompanist (I mean this in general: He seems to me the ideal man at the helm in a concerto, no matter who the soloist is).
The recording is also outstanding, clear, transparent and wholly musical.
In any competition for the buyer’s purse this would have a strong claim. The music itself is, after all, a young man’s work (Tchaikovsky was about 35 then and gained his fame precisely through this concerto). Accordingly a young pianist’s view of it can’t be that far wrong, if he retains a sound musical approach and eschews pretences – the very criterion on which so many youngsters fall afoul, whereas Pogorelich is all discretion and superlative music making. So this is serious business: A recording good enough to grace a discriminating collector’s shelves that is lifted by its sheer quality out of the crowd of the many also-rans.(by Jurgen Lawrenz)

Ivo Pogorelich (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Abbado

01. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito 23.20
02. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I 7.45
03. Allegro con fuoco 6.40



Modest Mussorgsky – Pictures At An Exhibition + Choral Works (Claudio Abbado) (1994)

FrontCover1Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (March 21 [O.S. March 9], 1839 – March 28 [O.S. March 16], 1881), one of the Russian composers known as the Five, was an innovator of Russian music. He strove to achieve a uniquely Russian musical identity, often in deliberate defiance of the established conventions of Western music.

Many of his major works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other nationalist themes, including the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. However, while Mussorgsky’s music can be vivid and nationalistic, it does not always glorify the powerful and is at times (such as in The Field-Marshal) antimilitaristic.

For many years Mussorgsky’s works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other composers. Many of his most important compositions have recently come into their own in their original forms, and some of the original scores are now also available.

With scintillating virtuosity in Pictures and Abbado bringing out the Russian color in the gloriously sung choral works, there is nothing routine about anything here.

Abbado has recorded all this music before: Pictures for DG (3/89) and the rest for RCA with the LSO Chorus in 1981 (6/93). The latter was a very good record, and remains thoroughly worthwhile at mid price, but the new live DG recording is even more spectacular, especially in St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain, the original version of Night on the Bare Mountain. Arthur Jacobs, who here provides the illuminating notes, suggests that the American word ‘bald’ is more faithful to the Russian than our term, ‘bare’. Here it certainly brings vividly graphic orchestral playing. Abbado obviously relishes the odd grotesque spurts of colour from the woodwind, and the Mussorgskian ruggedness. The composer’s structural clumsiness is not shirked and the lack of the smooth continuity found in the Rimsky arrangement does not impede the sense of forward momentum; indeed at the close the Russian dance element is emphasized, rather than the sinister pictorialism. (Of course the luscious slow ending is not here at all–that was added by Rimsky.)

ModestMussorgskyThe choral pieces are gloriously sung and again Abbado brings out their Russian colour, especially in the glowing yet sinuous “Chorus of priestesses”. Joshua is made to seem a minor masterpiece with its lusty opening (hints of Borodin’s Polovtsians) and its touching central solo (“The amorite women weep”). This is most eloquently sung by Elena Zaremba and the theme is then movingly taken up first by the women of the chorus and then the men, before the exultant music returns. The performance of Pictures at an Exhibition, like the choral items, gains from the spacious ambience and sumptuous overall textures. It is not, perhaps, an electrifying performance, but it is dramatic in its contrasts and very beautifully played. The refinement and colour of the evocation, so characteristic of Abbado, is most touching in “The old castle”, while “Tuileries” is gently evoked with a flexibly fluid control of tempo. “Bydlo” opens and closes mournfully, yet reaches a strong, positive immediacy as it finally comes close. The chicks dance with dainty lightness; then the hugely weighty lower orchestral tutti and bleating trumpet response of “Samuel Goldenberg” demonstrate the extraordinary range of tone this great orchestra can command.

After the scintillating virtuosity of “Market Place at Limoges” the sonorous Berlin brass makes a tremendous impact in “Catacombe” and Abbado’s tonal and dynamic graduations are characteristically astute; then ‘following a ferociously rhythmic “Baba-jaga” he steadily builds his three-dimensional “Great Gate at Kiev”, losing none of the grandeur of the gentle contrasts of the intoned chorale, with the tam-tam splashes at the end satisfyingly finalizing the effect. A most enjoyable concert: there is nothing routine about anything here. (by Gramophone Magazin, February 1995)

Claudio Abbado

Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado
Elena Zaremba (vocals on 05.)
Prague Philharmonic Chorus (choir on 05.)


01. A Night On The Bare Mountain 12.43
02. The Destruction Of Sennacherib 6.00
03. Salammbô – Chorus Of Priestesses 5.10
04. Oedipus in Athens – Chorus Of People In The Temple 3.07
05. Joshua 5.12

Pictures At An Exhibition:
06. Promenade 1.48
07. Gnomus 2.20
08. Promenade 1.04
09. The Old Castle 4.21
10. Promenade 0.34
11. The Tuileries Gardens 1.11
12. Bydlo 2.51
13. Promenade 0.45
14. Ballet Of The Chickens In Their Shells 1.14
15. Samuel Goldenberg And Schmuyle 2.10
16. The Market-Place At Limoges 1.20
17. The Catacombs (Sepulchrum romanum) 2.01
18. Cum mortuis in lingua mortua 2.04
19. The Hut On Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yaga) 3.28
20. The Great Gate Of Kiev 5.16

Written by Modest Mussorgsky, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel