On a New Recording. Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Shchedrin

August 24 2015

Modern technologies allow to release a disc in two stages. Rachmaninoff’s First Concerto for piano and orchestra was recorded in the autumn and released in January, including Itunes. And in April Denis Matsuev and Valery Gergiev recorded two more works. As the result there is a disc with highly unusual combination of musical pieces. All three works are of XXth century, created by three geniuses of XXth century: Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, and Shchedrin.

First Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff, Capriccio by Stravinsky and Second Piano Concerto by Shchedrin.

Although First Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff was created in XIXth century, Denis Matsuev performs its Second edition, which was written in XXth century. 

Denis Matsuev says that he has very special and long relations with each of these works. Matsuev and Gergiev have performed 32 different concertos with orchestra and Mozart’s Concerto for three pianos, when Gergiev was not a conductor, but a pianist. It is definitely a new record! Especially, when you talk about a duet “pianist-conductor”. But they for sure do not want to stop, as there are 46 concertos for piano and orchestra in Matsuev’s repertoire. Every year they invent new musical projects and programs. Gergiev’s interest, enthusiasm, energy and wish to perform music from different epochs are very close to Denis Matsuev’s soul and that’s why the created this disc. Although they’ve already recorded the disc with First and Second Piano Concertos by Shostakovich and Fifth Piano Concerto by Shchedrin. It was a great success. For example, Norman Lebrecht wrote: “Neither is a virtuoso vehicle and, the composer apart, there is no pianist who has stamped these works decisively as his or her own. Denis Matsuev, a Siberian who made his name in Rachmaninoff is perhaps the first to come close”.

But Shostakovich and Shchedrin are composers of the same historical period. And this disc represents composers from each period of XXth century. First Piano concerto by Rachmaninoff is, no doubt, a great favorite of Denis Matsuev. He says: “It can be stated that our relations are at a very impetuous stage right now, although I perform it for many years. It is really useful to make pauses, when you do not play some works and then return to them with new approaches, new thoughts and ideas”. V. Gergiev conducted this concerto not as frequently as other concertos by Rachmaninoff. Two years ago V. Gergiev and D. Matsuev were on their tour to Switzerland, where they performed Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, which is not a usual combination. By they wanted audience to hear these exact works.

Rachmaninoff’s First Concerto was the best-loved by his author. And not long before his death Rachmaninoff asked Horowitz to perform it. But, unfortunately, great Horowitz didn’t manage to do it for some reasons. First edition differs greatly from its Second edition, but basis was laid in the First edition: touching romanticism, Rachmaninoff’s melody, scale, rhythm. His greatness is seen in this work clearly. 

There are a lot of reminiscences connected with I. Stravinsky that Matsuev has. In 2010 he learned it for 15000th jubilee concert of NY Philharmonic Orchestra. Gergiev performed all works by Stravinsky that time. There was a great festival in New York and Capriccio was a musical piece that was performed on this legendary jubilee concert.

It is marvelous ballet-theatre music, very cinematographic in nature. It seems as if the piano is IN the orchestra, as if piano becomes its part and this effect adds to the main idea of this unique musical piece. 

G. Balanchine staged a part of “Jewels” ballet – “Rubies”, based on this work. It is not really popular among pianists, but it is challenging to impart the image of caprice.

Anthony Tommasini from NY Times wrote: “Denis Matsuev, the fast-rising young Russian pianist, made his Philharmonic debut in the Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, which usually comes across as a perky work alive with jazzy energy and ornate piano writing. But Mr. Matsuev, wielding his athletic virtuosity and steely power, gave a chiseled, hard-driving yet transparent performance, matched in character and cool brilliance by Mr. Gergiev and the orchestra”.

Shchedrin’s Second Concerto is a special case. Denis Matsuev’s played Shchedrin’s Fifth Concerto for many times with many conductors. And it was a great success. He also performed it at the concert devoted to Shchedrin’s jubilee. It was when they met for the first time. Matsuev also recorded Fifth Concerto with Mariss Jansons and Bavarian Radio Orchestra and five years ago he recorded this concerto with V. Gergiev.

A couple of years ago Shchedrin asked Matsuev to perform his Second Concerto: “It is YOUR concerto by spirit”. Second Concerto combines different styles, including jazz (there is a moment of real swing music with a double-bass and percussions in finale). Whole concert is a continuous powerful stream of energy, which should be preserved till the last note. It was a record of a live concert. Musicians performed it in April in St. Petersburg. Shchedrin was in the concert hall that moment and it was him who asked not to record it in a studio later. And this live recording helped to impart that emotional tension till the last note.

Rodion Constantinovich says: “My Second Piano Concerto he (Matsuev) learned very quickly. And not long ago, in April 2015, he performed and recorded it in St. Petersburg with Gergiev. For the first time I played this concert myself and recorded it with G. Rozhdestvensky. There are also recordings of this concert made by Nikolai Petrov, Marc-André Hamelin (with BBC Orchestra). But the recording by Matsuev will definitely create a furore. At least he is much better, than me as a performer. It is not even a new level of virtuosity, not just revealing of new nuances and underlying themes, but completely new level of piano mastery, which will be acquired by humanity only on the next level of this planet development”.

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