Valentina Lisitsa’s fine new box-set featuring almost all of Tchaikovsky’s solo piano music is a bargain for more than eleven hours of music
Valentina Lisitsa Tchaikovsky: Complete Works For Solo Piano
Decca (10 CDs), out now
It’s a curiosity that Tchaikovsky is so popular – his 1812 Overture is No 1 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame – and yet much of his music is virtually unknown over here.
That includes most of his operas, most of his chamber music, and almost all of his solo piano music, the totality of which is featured in Valentina Lisitsa’s fine new box.
Tchaikovsky wrote solo piano music for more than 30 years. It was a nice little earner for him, because in those times, composers made nothing out of grand symphonies but could make a lot out of sales of sheet music for home performances of piano trifles.
Valentina Lisitsa is a first-class virtuoso, with a strong but sometimes wayward musical personality. Occasionally she rips through pieces, breaking the sound barrier
Lisitsa’s is the most comprehensive survey of Tchaikovsky’s piano music ever issued, because it not only includes the stuff written for the piano but also the transcriptions the composer himself made of some of his most celebrated orchestral pieces, such as The Nutcracker and the aforementioned 1812 Overture.
Since this music was written for popular consumption, most of it is very engaging, which makes its neglect all the more surprising. And some indeed is first- class, like the series of 12 pieces celebrating the months of the year, perversely entitled by Tchaikovsky’s publisher The Seasons.
June, a barcarolle, is as good a piece of romantic piano music as any 19th-century composer produced. This and others, such as May’s White Nights, or the Sleigh Ride (November), have been companions of mine for years.
IT’S A FACT
Severe stage fright when he conducted made Tchaikovsky hold his hand on his head because he feared it would become detached from his body.
Lisitsa is a first-class virtuoso, with a strong but sometimes wayward musical personality. Occasionally she rips through pieces, breaking the sound barrier. At other times she plays too slowly and self-indulgently for my taste.
But that does not mean this isn’t a compelling issue, because it is. You just have to take the rough with the smooth a bit.
Besides, most people will be new to this music, and it won’t bother them that she doesn’t play everything as persuasively as a great like Sviatoslav Richter used to.
This stuff is all newly recorded and yet is being offered at a bargain price. About £35 for more than 11 hours of music is a serious snip.
Amy Dickson In Circles Out now
Amy Dickson is not just an outstanding saxophonist, she’s a musician full of curiosity to explore the full potential of her instrument. Which she does here in this edgy and imaginative tribute to the folk music of Europe, and her native Australia.
The Australian bits are especially fascinating because of the contribution of the didgeridoo player William Barton, who also composed a ten-minute tribute, included here, to his own Aboriginal tribe.
Amy Dickson is not just an outstanding saxophonist, she’s a musician full of curiosity to explore the full potential of her instrument
Dickson plays a range of other European folk-based stuff, such as Vaughan Williams’s Six Studies In English Folksong, a boring title that conceals some fine melodies; Falla’s Jota and Nana; Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No 4; and Percy Grainger’s Morris dance, Shepherd’s Hey.
Hidden away is the Saxophone Concerto Sir James MacMillan wrote for Amy last year, based on ancient Scottish melodies.
This album is popular in the sense that only the tin-eared will fail to enjoy it, but never emptily populist or condescending in the way that some classical musicians’ tribute to folk music has often been.