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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

Bridge 9278

Concertos for Piano

  • Piano Concerto #1 in E minor, Op. 11
  • Piano Concerto #2 in F minor, Op. 21
Vassily Primakov, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
Bridge 9278 DDD 75:04
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Here comes another Russian piano virtuoso! Vassily Primakov was born in 1979, and studied at Moscow's Central Special Music School, and later, at Juilliard (with Jerome Lowenthal). Before coming to the United States, he won several Russian prizes, and in 2002, he won First Prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. This is his third CD for Bridge Records, following a disc of Beethoven sonatas (Bridge 9251) and a Tchaikovsky program (Bridge 9283). No doubt there will be more.

No smoke and mirrors here: this is straight-ahead but not faceless playing. Primakov is no iconoclast in the style of Pogorelich (for example). These performances, which are traditional in the best sense, remain focused on the composer and the music, and not on the temperament of the pianist. Primakov's most salient stylistic trait is his use of rubato … and by "use" I do not mean "misuse," because pianists sometimes mistake rubato for a license to play self-indulgently, or as a cover-up for deficiencies in technique. Primakov has no such deficiencies – none that I am aware of here, anyway – and he understands that rubato means both give and take, and also that fluctuations in tempo must always be balanced, and must sound natural. In fact, Primakov's playing is nicely understated much of the time – there's no apparent desire to "wow" his listeners. His sound has clarity without hardness, and color without garishness. It's classy, and it's communicative. I think he's at his best in the rapt slow movements, in which time seems to stand still. He plays a Steinway D Hamburg on this recording, and it sounds great.

It's not unusual to cluck at Chopin's orchestral writing, and to call it unsophisticated, but Paul Mann and the Odense Symphony Orchestra take uncommon care with it. Even if the Danish orchestra isn't the Vienna Philharmonic, the sensitivity of their work here compensates for the occasional feeling that they are underpowered. It is unusual to praise the conducting on a disc of Chopin's piano concertos, but Paul Mann makes his presence felt here – again, without self-indulgence.

The Second Concerto precedes the First on this CD, because that is the order in which the two were composed – numbering notwithstanding. It is surprising how few CDs of these works have used a similar strategy. The recording is lovely – intimate, and well-balanced. Malcolm MacDonald's booklet notes go above and beyond the call of duty.

Copyright © 2009, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet