Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Van Cliburn – Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

   The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 is top rated concerto in the history of music and the one that made Tchaikovsky so famous composer. Of course the list of composer’s real achievements is much longer, there are some compositions of bigger importance in history of music, like last three of his symphonies, ballet Swan Lake or opera Eugene Onegin, but this is the one always on top of the lists of best selling records and live performances. His first piano concerto Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed between November 1874 and February 1875. Next two concertos for piano, 2nd in G major composed 5 years later and 3rd in E-flat major, published posthumously by Sergei Taneyev, and did never reach the level of popularity even close to the famous B-flat.
   Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of the most frequently recorded compositions in the history of music. Since Vladimir Horowitz and Arturo Toscanini recordings in forties, it became a kind of requirement every great pianist has to record this composition. Long before the war Russian piano school as well as many piano virtuosos abroad established this work as a part of basic concert repertoire. And since 1958 every four years International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition was festive occasion for developing ideas associated with Concerto B-flat minor. Among great number of different recordings connected to Moscow festival, the one made by Van Cliburn with Kiril Kondrashin sounds very special, deep, and soulful and has hard to ignore historical background.

Van Cliburn – Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 (1958)

   In 1958, during the heights of Cold War, started the quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition started in Moscow. The first winner of this competition and international sensation turned out young, 23 years old pianist from United States Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn Jr. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto B-flat minor with Moscow Conservatory Orchestra and Kiril Kondrashin caused the burst of enthusiasm of the Moscow audience. In subsequent months, the American pianist and Russian conductor had a concert tour all over the U.S. and recorded for RCA. The same year they recorded Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto with RCA Symphony Orchestra. This recording won Grand prix du disque of Acacémie Charles Cros in Paris and was published by RCA branches in Canada, France and Germany and get platinum status.
   Performance of this concerto is example of brilliant cooperation between soloist and conductor. Pianist joints technical excellence, interpreting skills and pure romantic feeling. Orchestra is precise and gives soloist enough space and solid ground for creating his own vision of this dramatic musical narration. Van Cliburn plays with brave expressive dynamic contrasts and perfect articulation what makes piano sounds heavier than usually and more symphonic than orchestra itself. Sometimes one can feel Kiril Kondrashin lead the orchestra in some kind of loosy way, but maybe it was the best for pianist, who is so much focused on piano any accompaniment can be enough to balance his multidirectional rendition.

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