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CD Review

Young Unknowns

Behzod Abduraimov, piano
* National Symphony Orchestra RAI/Juraj Valcuha
Decca Classics 4785360
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We almost certainly did not need another disc of these two concertos, even as gloriously played as these. Certainly, Behzod Abduraimov's considerable talent warrants a concerto debut album, but there are so many young pianists tackling these works that it becomes very hard to keep track of them all. That said, I like this album more than many of the other recent albums I've heard that show off the next young hotshot.

The reasons are simple. Decca has decided to forgo Universal's usual superstar team-up strategy in favor of a partnership that looks odd on paper but actually works musically. There's no Daniel Harding, Gustavo Dudamel, or Simon Rattle. Rather, we have a young unknown working with another such artist, and I like that on concept alone. Of course, none of that would matter if these weren't committed and musical artists, and that's the second thing I like about this disc; nobody is showing off or grandstanding for extra-musical reasons. There's no "performance legacy" or "youth ensembles". This is just a great disc.

No, the RAI forces aren't the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle, but they are arguably the more interesting bunch. The polish and sheen of the Philharmonic is replaced with rougher edges, but also grittier playing. This works especially well in the Prokofieff, where Abduraimov opts for an aptly virtuosic, but also tremendously musical rendition. I actually spoke pretty highly of Lang Lang's Sony issue, but I find this version more engaging in all respects. The National Symphony of the RAI gives 100 percent, and the whole concerto is excellent. The piano is forward in the mix, but so are the winds, which have a unique and tremendously individual character, especially in the Finale. In short, this is one of the best modern readings I've heard in a good while.

In the Tchaikovsky, the lack of sonic heft and tonal beauty from the orchestra is somewhat more of a liability. Mind you, a great performance of this work hardly concerns the orchestra at all (Cliburn's best-seller was with a company pick-up band), but I still like to have top quality instrumentals. I appreciate the pianists' refusal to make needless dramatic pauses or to simply bang away at the keys. His quieter movements are delicious, and I found myself looking forward to the less extroverted moments of the work, where Abduraimov could simply work his magic. By no means do I mean to imply that he lacks the skill to attack the work; the more demanding passages sound impressively effortless and he actually managed to make me listen to the whole piece. I'm simply not that fond of the Concerto, so it best be great if I'm going to put in the time. Argerich still tops my list for both works, but this is a wonderful album.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman