Dvořák’s Piano Concerto – Aimard & Harnoncourt (Teldec)

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto in G minor, Op.33
The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op.109

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Recorded between 20-26 October 2001 in Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2003
8573 87630-2

While there is never any suggestion that Dvořák isn’t one of the most popular of composers, his reputation tends to rest on the last three symphonies, the cello concerto, Slavonic Dances, a couple of chamber works and an aria from Rusalka. The shame is that there are many more wonderful pieces of his to delight the ear and touch the heart. One such is the urbane piano concerto, which brims with good cheer, rustic vitality and, as ever with Dvořák, a fund of memorable tunes. Critics have pointed to the composer’s unidiomatic writing for the piano. While this may be true, sometimes such unorthodox methods give a truer portrait of the creator.

Dvořák’s piano concerto, although it was championed by the late Rudolf Firkušný, and the work was given high-profile attention by Richter and Carlos Kleiber for EMI, and András Schiff plays it, is not a regular in the concert hall and pianists aren’t queuing up to play it. Yet, although it is far from being a lost cause, it does need to lose its Cinderella tag. The collective talents of the searching and enquiring minds of Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Nikolaus Harnoncourt tease out the magical qualities of Dvořák’s music – both musicians cherish the composer’s personality. Needless to say, we are given what Dvořák actually wrote (Vilém Kurz’s revision of the solo part held sway for a good many years) and without cuts.

Dvořák’s is not an heroic concerto, rather the piano is integrated, a role which suits Aimard’s nimble fingers and his delight in subtly shaded figuration, Harnoncourt bringing out detail and dynamics in abundance, all pointing up Dvořák’s expressive heart and rhythmic kick. The spacious first movement merges energy and lyrical asides, the slow movement is a nocturnal wonder, quite Chopinesque, and the finale is joyous, the coda playful.

The vivid colours and sheer inventiveness of Dvořák’s four late symphonic poems based on ballads of Erben show the composer at the height of his powers and originality, a ’setting’ for orchestra of a literary source – words transformed into music. Harnoncourt’s feel for orchestral effect and sonority brings off a kaleidoscopic performance, antiphonal violins a joy, the Concertgebouw Orchestra in agile and characterful form.

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