Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Concerto

After my post on Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Richter, I brought out my recordings of the Second — a lesser known work that deserves far more attention than it has ever received. The piece has not been recorded often and is performed even less. Of the handful of recordings available on vinyl and CD, my top four are listed here.

On DGG, Shura Cherkassky the Concerto with Richard Kraus and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1956 (Heliodor 2548-023, original photo-4mono), with the unfortunately abridged Siloti score which cuts the violin/cello solo parts from the second movement. The recording is available on CD in a recent DGG remaster. For some reason Cherkassky favored this cut score, again in his 1981 Vox recording with Susskind (5139). The DGG performance has other problems, including ominously slow tempi in the first movement. But the sound is rich and warm — more so in this Heliodor reissue than original issues I have heard — and the drama builds methodically in the final movement.

Much more livelier, rhythmic performances come from Sylvia Kersenbaum and Jean Martinon in 1972, on EMI Quadraphonic photo-2(063-12-124) and the much later on CD, 1991, Mikhail Pletnev with Fedoseyev (Virgin 518, also Philips Great Pianists Vol. 77). The verve of both performances is similar, with Kersenbaum sounding every bit as ¬†Russian as Pletnev. CD is available here, though I can’t vouch for the conversion from four channel to stereo. The four channel sound on my German quadrophonie pressing is superb, and amplifies the excitement of the first movement as well as the intimate duo of the slow movement. Pletnev is more snappy in his touch than Kersenbaum, and the range of this recording is as much as can be expected from early 1990’s CD.

A favorite among audiophiles is the 1987 EMI recording with Peter Donohoe and Barshai leading the Bournemouth Symphony (27-0603), which sounds better on vinyl than CD. The performance is balanced and fresh, though rather one-dimensional. It photo-3does boast particularly memorable contributions from Nigel Kennedy and Steven Isserlis in the second movement. The digital Pletnev on CD is a more rewarding experience, though without that glowing second movement duo. Neither boasts the wrap-around movie-theater drama of the Kersenbaum quadraphonic.

In any event, this is an underexplored work worth looking up, on vinyl or CD.

About Jonathan Riehl

Jonathan Riehl writes and teaches communications, rhetoric, and American politics. He used to be a Republican. View all posts by Jonathan Riehl

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