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Reviews: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 etc. - Volodos

Reviews: 5

Site review by akiralx August 10, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:    
If you're listening in multi-channel the first thing you need to do is turn the rear channels *right* down - maybe 5dB (which is quite a lot) as otherwise you'll feel you're sitting among the front desks of the violas.

Once you've done that, you'll get a really rather good sonic experience - the soundstage is wide and the piano sounds natural and vivid, but well-integrated into the sound picture. I don't think this recording scores as highly in terms of orchestral depth although there's a nice bloom on the sound. Detail is OK but I can think of plenty of recent orchestral recordings which score higher on that front.

I've never really been too keen on this concerto, certainly not as much as the Grieg or Rachmaninov Second if we're talking warhorses, but I can still make it worth my while hearing it every so often if the soloist can bring something fresh (which can't be easy with this work). Here Arcadi Volodos plays with real imagination and his usual phenomenal technique. I've enjoyed a few of his RBCDs like the Schubert D894 performance, and felt his Rachmaninov Third was one of the best recent accounts, so I did have good expectations for this SACD (one of Sony's few hybrids).

I'm really going to make some comparisons with my favourite RBCD version: Martha Argerich's 1994 DG performance with Abbado, as it's also live and with the same orchestra. This Sony SACD sounds rather more detailed than the DG (the piano a little crisper), and while both conductors accompany well, I would perhaps hold a slight preference for Ozawa - when he's on song he is an exciting conductor, and a fine accompanist (as evidence I would offer his superb Liszt concerti with Zimerman).

Soloist-wise certain passages come off well with both Argerich and Volodos: in the climactic octave passage around 7'38 I would perhaps favour Argerich, but then Volodos plays the end of the section better, with a little more mystery. Volodos demonstrates great power throughout without a hint of banging - he really brings out the bass lines superbly though it almost sounds like he's employing octave doublings after 10 minutes and with the sforzato chords just before the 15 minute mark.

Orchestrally, the BPO play very well: at 13'11 the oboe solo is really expressively done, though at 14'11 the cellos are brought out rather better by Abbado in the 1994 recording. At 18'28 the furious orchestral build-up to the coda is well done by Ozawa (though perhaps even better by Abbado), and the movement ends very powerfully indeed. Similarly Ozawa's handling of the Finale's closing pages without grandstanding is very refreshing.

Throughout the Andantino Volodos plays with real insight and a quicksilver touch where required - this is great playing. The oboe once again plays his little solo with great charm, putting one in mind of the great ballet scores like Swan Lake. In the Finale Volodos again plays with great freshness - I'd hesitate to say he makes me hear the work anew, as with this piece that's well-nigh impossible, but playing with this level of imagination, coupled with a great technique and dramatic sweep Volodos really will please even the most jaded pianophile.

In stereo SACD mode, the soundstage is commendably almost as wide as in multi-channel, if without quite the same vividness, but the smoothness and depth suffers a little during the concerto.

The disc's presentation is rather let down by the usual puff-piece notes - and bizarrely no performance timings for the music anywhere, which I found particularly irritating.

The Rachmaninov solo works were recorded in the studio: here I found I could reset the rear channels without undue emphasis, and the sound is very pleasing - though the keyboard does sound a little close, as well as fairly wider than is natural. But sonically this mini-recital will give great pleasure, as Volodos plays with the same imagination he has on his other solo discs.

Site review by Polly Nomial February 12, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by Monteverdi March 3, 2004 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is a sleek and attractive performance of the concerto with moments of pianistic brilliance that cause you to jump from your chair. But having said that, I wouldn't think of this performance as one that fully expresses Tchaikovsky's stylistic world. When you get to the solo works, you will experience music making of breathtaking facility and vision in performances that will consistently astonish you.
The sound in the concerto is very good. But the piano sound in the solo pieces is the best yet.
This is companion to the Rachmaninov 3 with Berlin/Levine and the Schubert solo recital and the Carnegie Hall recital.
©DAE 2004

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Review by sledge19 October 8, 2005 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I have listened to many interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto no. 1. My personal favorite and reference for this concerto (to this day) is the recording with Arthur Rubinstein with the BSO (CD, RCA 1963).

Compared to the Rubinstein recording, Volodos definetely presents his own personal interpretation of this well-known piece of classical music. He shows a impressive variety of tempi and dynamics. Powerful and rather fast, almost too agressiv at times, reminding me of Horrowitz playing. The slow movements are played rather slow but sensitive and with feeling. Although I do not always favor his interpretation and timing, he always plays with precision and every note is accounted for. He never gets lost – the main musical thread can be clearly followed (and enjoyed). Only very few exception are some runs, where he seems to favor top speed before accentuation.

The Berliner Philharmoniker under Seiji Ozawa accompany Volodos very well and are perfectly able to keep up with his speed.

The sonics of this live recording (Tchaikovsky) are very good. The typical audience noise is sometimes noctiable during quieter moments, but is not disturbing at all.

Running times are neither listed on the case, nor in the booklet. But running times of about 19:16 for the “Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso”, 6:38 for the “Andantino” and 6:19 for the “Allegro con fuoco” confirm Volodos’ brisk and refreshing pace.

The disc also contains some nice pieces for solo piano by Rachmaninoff, which also verify Volodos’ virtuosity. The sonics of the studio recordings (Rachmaninoff) are slightly better.

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Review by freddie May 7, 2006 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Having read several reviews on a different site of this Tchaikovsky recording talking about its "lousy sound" or "middle of the road" performance, I must start out by saying that I couldn't disagree more with either account. This may well be some of the best playing of anything ever put onto disk, and the sound is superbly recorded. The other recent versions of Lang Lang (Chicago Symphony/Barenboim) and Olga Kern (Rochester Philharmonic/Seaman) just don't come close. This one is right up there with the legendary Cliburn (and yes, that's still great!), Argerich and Horowitz recordings. The sound is far better than any of them. The fact that it was a live performance leaves me speechless. And on a final note, the studio recordings of 6 lesser-known Rachmaninov solo works and a Volodos transcription are worth the purchase price alone. Again, the SACD piano sound is the best I have ever heard. GET THIS DISK!

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