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Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto: A World-Premiere Recording?

Pianist Kirill Gerstein

A world-premiere recording of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto released this year has won an international award. How can such a well-known piece be having a recording premiere? WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Radio Script: 

Susan Lewis: This is Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto the way we’ve heard it for decades – forceful, athletic - played here by Van Cliburn after he won the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition.

MUSIC: [Van Cliburn]

SL: Pianist KirillGerstein says scholars at the Tchaikovsky Museum in Russia believe this familiar version reflects revisions made after the composers death in 1893. Gerstein got a look at the 1879 score Tchaikovsky himself conducted in his last public concert.

Kirill Gerstein: When I saw that, and compared it to the prevalent version, to me it was clear - what is by Tchaikovsky is better, and better serves the musical idea than the posthumously edited one.

SL: Gerstein says the opening chords are among hundreds of small differences.

MUSIC: [opening chords of 1879 version]

KG: When all these alterations are reverted and one goes back to Tchaikovsky's text, and Tchaikovsky's dynamic markings, and the way he writes for the piano, then I think the resulting impression is that it is more lyrical, more musical in some way...you could say a more "Schumannesque" piece than we are used to. 

SL:  Gerstein’s recording of the 1879 version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, on the Myrios Classics label, won the 2015 ECHO Klassik Award for Concerto Recording of the Year. 

Listen to Kirill Gerstein talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about how Tchaikovsky's own version of his first piano concerto was rediscovered and restored.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.