Piano 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 declined 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)
There 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 perspective. 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)