Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Only those who are already familiar with these same performances on previous releases are advised to pass on this disc coupling Herbert von Karajan and Sviatoslav Richter's 1962 recording of Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" with Karajan and Mstislav Rostropovich's 1968 recording of Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme." Though some might argue that Karajan was not an accommodating accompanist, the challenges poised by these supremely strong-willed soloists brought out the best -- or at least the most cooperative -- in him, and these performances are indeed among the finest he ever recorded. Richter is as always an imperious pianist in the concerto, tearing into the piece with the unswerving conviction that it is not a warhorse, but a great and vital work. Similarly, Rostropovich is a muscular, soulful, and unrelentingly ingratiating soloist in the "Variations," ripping into the work with nary a backward glance at the Austrian conductor on the podium. But, naturally, Karajan keeps right up with them, eliciting out of the Wiener Symphoniker amazingly fiery playing in the concerto and drawing out of his Berliner Philharmoniker consistently refined playing in the "Variations." Arguably two of the greatest postwar recordings of the works, Deutsche Grammophon's stereo sound is astoundingly real and immediate.