Three cheers to LP Classics for commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Mayo Arts Center with this release of its inaugural concert (September 29, 1999), then known as Morristown’s Community Theatre (New Jersey).
Alas, the occasion trumped the performances.
To begin was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Kirov Orchestra (Valery Gergiev, conductor) and pianist Alexander Slobobyanik (a firm believer in the recreation of the performing arts centre).
The rightly famous opening Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso was a tad slow and frequently “untogether”. In their long lines the violins needed a lot more sustainability. Most of the time—with the exception of the dolce moments—this performance never felt secure. The tuttis lacked direction and the triples were uneven in rhythmic execution. Tchaikovsky’s required “snap, crackle and pop” (from both soloist and orchestras) was MIA.
The Andante semplice was easily the highlight with its lovely flute and marvellous principal cello interventions. In the orchestra, once again most of the triples were far from accurate.
The finale felt more like “panicso” and “fuoco”; too often the clarinet’s “comments” were lost in the shuffle. Molto meno mosso was appropriately full, but lacked any sort of convincing phrasing.
All in all, not a great start to a venue that would become much more renowned in the years to come.
Moving ahead to 1989, Slobobyanik is featured once again, this time with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maxim Shostakovich in a performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
The opening of the Allegro Maestoso comes across as much more heavy handed rather than majestic, the second subject fares a little better but ensemble is not always spot-on. Slobobyanik most certainly takes stage, but unfortunately—maddeningly at times—the top is too brittle to support Chopin’s intentions. The extended E major section provides some relief but the overall, combined effect (there is a meeting of the minds) is too angry by half. Far too many moments feel like “So there!” rather than “Aha!”.
Lightyears away in tenor and tone is the Romance. Following a thoughtful opening, Slobobyanik lovingly sings the delicate emotional lines to great effect. The double thirds are most impressive while a true “sotto voce” failed to materialize; the chromatic episode was “best of show” leading to a fine adieu that only lacked a collective disappearance al niente.
At once flirtatious and fun, the Rondo proved to be the best of the bunch, the zesty returns were compelling—egging any listener’s ear on for the next episode. More weight on the accents would have provided still more energy and clarity.
The pair of encores (both from Chopin: Étude in C Minor, Op 10, N0.12; Prelude in A Major, Op. 28 No. 7) were, respectively, fiery and understated, deftly summing up all that came before. JWR