Piano Concerto No. 1.
Piano Concerto in C,
Marianna Shirinyan (pn);
Michael Francis, cond;
Rolf Gupta, cond; Copenhagen P
ORCHID 100025 (67:28)
Marianna Shirinyan is a young Danish-Armenian pianist with a career in Europe. She is an engaging and thoughtful artist. Her tone is lovely and beautifully modulated, if not especially large. Shirinyan commands an excellent legato in passage work, while her articulation is febrile and vivid. She uses rubato with taste and good judgment. Above all, Shirinyan has a firm and thorough conception of the music she plays, something which cannot be taken for granted even from some famous pianists performing a Beethoven concerto. Unlike some young pianists who use their concerto debut album to display a glittering technique, Shirinyan employs hers to present musicianship purely at the service of the composer. This represents a welcome change from our celebrity-saturated musical culture, and I only can wish for Shirinyan more endeavors of the kind we have here.
From the start of the Beethoven concerto, one is aware of the brilliant framework conductor Michael Francis provides the pianist. His accompaniment is crisp and passionate, with pungent contributions from the brass and timpani, and especially brilliant rhythmic articulation. With Shirinyan’s first entrance, we encounter the pianist as hero of this concerto, with bravura playing yet without pomposity or empty theatrics. Shirinyan plays truly
Allegro con brio
, with an almost combustible energy. Note that this is the same tempo marking as in the first movement of the “Eroica” Symphony—for Shirinyan and Francis, both movements share nobility of utterance. Shirinyan has the ability to maintain tension even in the quietest moments. The cadenza possesses psychological depth, with character and refinement. In the
, Shirinyan’s playing is warm and unaffected. The interchanges between her and the first clarinet are particularly delectable. As presented here, the solo part seems a precursor of John Field’s nocturnes, offering a proto-romantic subtext to a classical concerto. Shirinyan’s initial statement of the principal theme of the rondo has marvelous rhythmic lift and poise, in keeping with the
marking. She preserves this delicacy throughout the movement, without ever being fey. The coda is touching. This must be one of the best Beethoven Firsts of the digital era.
Friedrich Kuhlau’s concerto resembles Beethoven’s First in a number of ways. They are in the same key, their opening movements both have a catchy rhythmic figuration, their slow movements each open with the piano accompanied by strings—both giving an important role to the first clarinet—while the finales are both rondos opening with the solo piano. However, the content of these concertos differs hugely, with Kuhlau’s resembling Hummel’s in style and substance. It is a well constructed work, pleasant and agreeable. From the lovely second theme of the opening tutti, one notes that we are not in the Olympian world of Beethoven. The piano part is highly revealing of the character of the performer, and Shirinyan plays it with elegance, repose, delicate shadings, and charm. She and conductor Rolf Gupta give the slow movement a diaphanous quality, with freedom in phrasing and a light footed warmth in texture. The piano part of the rondo, both virtuosic and gnomic, could have inspired Schubert’s
. Shirinyan gets everything out of this movement, without appearing to exert herself unduly. To make Kuhlau’s concerto the discmate to standard repertory is a welcome change from usual record company practice. I found myself listening to the Kuhlau as often as to the Beethoven.
The sound engineering in both concertos is excellent, clear, balanced, and unfussy. Of the classic recordings of the Beethoven, I like Rudolf Serkin with Eugene Ormandy and Sviatoslav Richter with Charles Munch. From the digital era there are notable performances by Lisa Smirnova and Lars Vogt, the latter using cadenzas composed by Glenn Gould. If you wish to explore Kuhlau’s music further, Michael Schønwandt directs a fine recording of his overtures. I hope Marianna Shirinyan does not get lost in the shuffle of emerging young pianists. She is a distinguished artist who merits our attention. Her Beethoven and Kuhlau disc is a keeper.