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One of the key questions to be asked when selecting a recording of the two Shostakovich piano concertos – which together last less than 45 minutes – is what are they coupled with? The two-piano Concertino Op 94 is one option (Toradze, on Pan); Alexeev trumped most with The Assault on Beautiful Gorky, the mini-concerto from the film score to The Unforgettable Year 1919 (EMI Classics); more recently, Melnikov (Harmonia Mundi) included the Violin Sonata, which is longer than either concerto. Boris Giltburg has gone for novelty here: his own transcriptions for piano of the Waltz from the String Quartet No 2 (1944), and the entire Eighth Quartet (1960).

Readers of Testimony know the crucial autobiographical significance of Shostakovich’s Quartet No 8, and Barshai’s searing arrangement of it for string orchestra is well known. What Giltburg’s piano transcription loses in the strings’ sustaining intensity, it gains in intimacy, as if trying to capture the composer at the piano rendering the work for his own edification. It remains as uncomfortable a listen (for all the right reasons) as in its more familiar versions.

The concertos, however, must remain the main event, and Giltburg’s new accounts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in top form under Vassily Petrenko are first class. Tempi are a touch measured in No 1 – I prefer Alexeev’s and Melnikov’s more headlong approach – but the slow movements are beautifully realised. Rhys Owens is as fine a trumpet co-soloist as any pianist could wish for. In the gentler Second Concerto, written for the composer’s son, Maxim, the rapport between soloist and orchestra is a joy to hear.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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