Stunning Dvořak and Martinu Piano Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz

DvorakPC

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

However unlikely it may seem, these two very different piano concertos make logical disc mates. Both take advantage of an unusually close relationship between piano and orchestra, producing a wholly original and effective expressive synthesis, and both are superbly performed here by pianist Ivo Kahánek. Of the two, the Dvořák has long been the most misunderstood, owing to its superficial resemblance to the traditional, romantic virtuoso concerto and the fact that it used to be presented, if at all, with a bowdlerized version of the solo part. Happily, the original is now the standard text, even if most pianists reserve the right to tinker in spots (nothing new there).

Certainly, you’d never guess that there’s anything awkward or unsatisfying about the solo writing as performed here. Kaháhek produces the necessary gushing fountains of notes at the big moments, but contrives (with the aid of conductor Jakub Hruša) the most engaging, chamber-like exchanges with the orchestra in the exquisite Andante sostenuto second movement. The performance benefits particularly from perfectly judged tempos: it just flows along with complete naturalness, especially in the finale. It dances with just the right lightness of touch and joyful abandon. Marvelous!

Martinu’s evocative Fourth Piano Concerto, subtitled “Incantantions,” is as extraordinary a work in its medium as anyone ever wrote. It’s structure is wholly unique. Although the work’s two movements contain recapitulatory elements, it comes across as a sort of colorful, luscious, exotic improvisation–a hallucinatory fantasy held together only by the composer’s wholly unique syntax and impeccable sense of musical timing. I love it, and this performance is certainly as compelling as that by the work’s dedicatee, Rudolf Firkušny. Toss in first class engineering, and the result is an exceptional release by any measure.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Both Works: Firkusny (RCA)


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