Hailed by the press as “the definitive video production” of Tchaikovsky’s music, this exceptional concert series, recorded live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, features the leading Russian conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev and the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. Fedoseyev’s perceptive reading of the works of his fellow countryman, the masterly playing of the orchestra and guest soloists combine to produce performances which are revelatory in their execution and understanding of Tchaikovsky’s music and the Russian heritage.
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.
Lorin Varencove Maazel was born of American parents in Neuilly, France on March 6, 1930 and the family returned to Los Angeles when Lorin was still an infant. He exhibited a remarkable ear and musical memory when very young; he had perfect pitch and sang back what he heard. He was taken at age five to study violin with Karl Moldrem. At age seven he started studying piano with Fanchon Armitage. When he became fascinated with conducting, his parents took him to symphony concerts, then arranged for him to have lessons with Vladimir Bakaleinikov, then assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Most of this disc is taken up with Liszt's Christmas Tree, an unusually modest suite based on Christmas carols. It also offers charming pieces by Reger, Tchaikovsky, Rebikov, and Lyapunov based on Christmas themes, and a couple of Bach transcriptions. Eteri Andjaparidze, whose first CD was a sensational Prokofiev collection, plays this music truly superb musicianship and the kind of pianistic color that has become a rarity. Her Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is the most beautiful I've heard since Dinu Lipatti's. And wait until you hear her delightful playing of Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride! It's deliciously witty and charming.