I put off buying this for a long time because, frankly, this isn't my favorite concerto, and I'm also rather sick of warhorses, period. It's a testament to Pogo's brilliance that he can make me hear a warhorse all over again for the first time, but he worked the same magic with his stunning recording of the Chopin "Funeral March" sonata, another CD I recommend highly. Pogo seems to be that rare artist, someone who can imagine something anew and convince you that this is the way to go. He's certainly convinced Abbado. The stentorian introduction here will stand your hair on end, no matter how many times you've already heard it. And little finesses, small attentions to detail, will convince you that there is still gold to be mined in overly-familiar repertoire pieces. Pogo and Abbado are clearly having a blast finding new nuggets in the nooks and crannies of this concerto.
And maybe it's not all that familiar anyway, no matter how many times we've heard it. Because you have to admit that, after the all-too-familiar intro, there's a lot of brave material here. Imagine how avant-garde this must have sounded in 1875! The structure is extremely odd--it's really somewhere between a concerto and a fantasy. The role of the piano is sometimes that of conspirator and sometimes that of foe. Anyone who thinks of Tchaikovsky as a "bourgeois" composer should listen to this work more carefully.
Pogo and Abbado do. Pogorelich, who rose to fame when Martha Argerich walked off a jury competition in which he was *not* awarded first place, bangs off the opening octaves as cleanly as glass. And in the secondary theme of the first movement, the delicate thing that appears first in the winds, he plays the counterpoint with unbelievable clarity, yet never without feeling or coldly. Or listen to the little cadenza just before the main theme returns to recap the second movement. Pogo walks on air. Just amazing! The poster below me who says this performance is unfelt has got to be kidding! You can tell when Abbado is enjoying himself in concertos--it shows in his accompaniments. Here he is electrifying, and DG's engineers capture it all with great big bold sound that will make your rafters rattle and annoy--or delight--your neighbors.
Some might carp that this disc is a little skimpy with no filler. Well, all Pogo discs are skimpy. He doesn't record often, but when he does it's an event, so savor it and go for quality over quantity. That hunk of filet Mignon on the menu for $40 is skimpy too--but I'll take it over a McDonald's Quadruple Cheeseburger any day.