Violinist Aleksey Semenenko writes of this new release: “I decided to make it the central focus of this album by placing Schubert’s Fantasy in C after Paganini’s ‘I Palpiti’ Variations. After hearing him play in concert, Schubert was so impressed by Paganini’s technique and style that he wanted to write something similarly virtuosic, which eventually resulted in the Fantasy in C major. Some passages are indeed on a par with anything Paganini has written. However, Schubert adapted the music into his own symphonic style. In Schubert’s Fantasy in C, technical brilliance is always at the service of the musical idea. Furthermore, Schubert is not as interested in the individual instrumental parts as Paganini was.” In addition to the Paganini and Schubert, Semenenko has included works by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. “Stunning technique and intonation, verve, wit, (and) beautiful phrasing.” (The Boston Musical Intelligencer) “an unparalleled level of refined musicianship and stage presence.” (The Strad)
What makes these performances stand out is Ott's thoughtful approach to both concertos, eschewing empty display and bringing weight, detail and a range of colours to the solo parts.
The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 3 is rarely heard, though it is a finely crafted work worth greater attention. It has suffered alongside the magnificent and superior Second and the ever-popular First. Moreover, it is not a bona fide concerto at all, the composer having completed only the first movement before his sudden death in 1893. Contrary to the suggestion of a few, it is highly unlikely he intended to produce a one-movement concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote two other piano pieces the same year bearing the titles "Andante" and "Finale," respectively. Following his death, Taneyev orchestrated these and attached them to the Concerto, though Tchaikovsky had left no indication they were to be a part of it. But the pair did share something in common with the completed first movement: a theme source – the incomplete Symphony No. 7. In any event, the opening movement of this Concerto is the most compelling, featuring an exuberant main theme whose first two notes are the central melodic element. An attractive slow melody is soon presented, followed by a theme of great vivacity and rhythmic drive.
Deep in the heart of the Cold War, there was once a miracle in Moscow – Texas-based classical pianist Van Cliburn, of whom no one had heard, conquered at the First Tchaikovsky Competition, an event set aside to showcase Soviet talent. Cliburn was warned by his own government not to go, given the tense political relationship between the United States and Soviet Union at the time, and once he arrived he was greeted as a party crasher, subject to hostile stares and animosity of the kind he had never dreamed of back in Texas. And it was Cliburn, at the end, which brought down the house, and held the award. Back in America, he was greeted with a ticker tape parade and was the subject of a best-selling biography by Abram Chasins, The Van Cliburn Story, copies of which continue to clog the shelves of American thrift stores five decades hence. Ultimately, though, Cliburn's celebrity lost its luster. Nerves, ultra-picky perfectionism, and mishandling by management led to his early retirement from the concert scene; his greatest latter-day achievement being the force behind the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, America's most prestigious such event.
Bernard Haitink’s 1980 Manfred was the prize of his Concertgebouw/Tchaikovsky symphony cycle. Riccardo Chailly’s 1987 effort with the same orchestra, while very good, doesn’t quite live up to that standard. In both recordings you get the sense that Tchaikovsky composed Manfred expressly for the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The very sound of the ensemble in its own hall conjures the dark, fantasy world described in the music. To this add lively and colorful playing, rich sonority, and utterly impeccable musicianship and you’ve got a uniquely compelling aural experience. Where the performances part company is in Haitink’s embrace of Tchaikovsky’s passionate dramatic ethos, a quality that Chailly, by contrast, tends to shy away from. (Of course, for a truly passionate reading you have to hear Muti’s rendition on EMI.) In his favor Chailly does have Decca’s vivid, high-impact digital recording, which, though having less warmth than the analog Philips production, better conveys the massiveness of the Concertgebouw Hall’s acoustics.