Tuesday 1 November 2016

Concerto debut: Alexandra Dariescu in Tchaikovsky

Alexandra Dariescu - Tchaikovsky - Signum Classics
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Nutcracker Suite; Alexandra Dariescu, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Darrell Ang; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Poetry and power from the young Romanian pianist, Alexandra Dariescu, in her concerto debut on disc

This new disc represents pianist Alexandra Dariescu's concerto debut, playing a work with which she is very much associated, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Darrell Ang on Signum Classics. And Dariescu pairs the work with more Tchaikovsky, not a concerto but Mikhail Pletnev's piano-solo arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, celebrating 200 years since ETA Hoffman wrote the tale which inspired the ballet.

This is a traditional account of the concerto, using the 1884 Siloti edition which until recently has held sway but we now also have Tchaikovsky's rather more Schumann-esque 1879 edition to choose from as well (see my review of Kirill Gerstein's performance of the 1879 work for more details). That Dariescu chose the traditional one is not surprising, after all it was watching a performance by Emil Gilels on TV which first got her interested in the concerto in the first place, and the 1884 version with its huge opening chords remains iconic, but I would love to hear her play the 1879 version too.

She certainly does justice to those chords. I have heard her play the work live (in Grimsby with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, see my review) and can testify to the remarkable combination of power and poetry which she brings to the work. Elsewhere in the opening movement we can appreciate the poetry and detail of Dariescu's performance, the delicacy yet also the robust sensibility.

About the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Darrell Ang, I am slightly less sure. They do not quite bring the right sort of sheen to the big tune of the opening, and overall the orchestra seems to be careful rather than inspired. They do a fine job of accompanying, but it really only when Dariescu comes in that the sound really lifts. Yet there are moments when the music really does catch fire and you get glimpses of a more passionately vivid performance.

The second movement starts with a lovely flute, poetic piano and a singing cello in a passage which is beautiful and finely considered, and there is a lovely delicacy to the way the movement develops. The third movement is taken at quite a steady tempo, but with a real rhythmic vitality and a sense of joy in the piano part. Yet again, the orchestra feels rather four-square when it is on its own, but the steadiness of the tempo does however give space to Dariescu's passage-work, and this really sparkles.

The Nutcracker Suite (Tempo di marcia viva, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tarantella, Intermezzo, Trepak, Tea, Andante maestoso) is a complete delight. Pletnev's version was published in 1978 and represents his own selection of movements from the ballet rather than a transcription of the orchestral suite. In the opening march you wonder at the textures, there are times when it sounds as if Dariescu has more than four hands. The Sugar Plum Fairy rather challenges the piano (not the pianist) with the really high writing bringing out a glassiness in the instrument, still Dariescu still manages to delight. The whole suite is a triumph of skill and character, and anyone who has met her will recognise how the playing seems to reflect the charm of her own personality. Yet she also brings a big emotional sweep to the final Andante maestoso.

I enjoyed this disc immensely, particularly the Nutcracker Suite. The concerto is a wonderful record of a treasured performer, but I am not sure that it is a performance to sit on the library shelves.

Piotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor
Piotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, arr Mikhail Pletnev - Nutcracker Suite, Op.71a
Alexandra Dariescu (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Darrell Ang (conductor)
Available from Amazon.co.uk.

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