Composers: Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky
Compositions: Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 1
Performers: Haochen Zhang p, Lahti SO/
Dima Slobodeniouk
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2381

The expression ‘man versus piano’ is the perfect description of Prokofiev’s extraordinary Second Piano Concerto, in which the soloist barely has time to breathe. Haochen Zhang somehow manages to tame this beast but never at the expense of finesse, imagination and, of course, sheer heft. The soloist’s first utterance is marked narrante, as if to imply a tale is about to be told and that’s how Zhang plays it.

Then there’s the weird shock-a-minute cadenza (instead of a conventional development) after which the orchestra re-enters, sounding like something out of Jurassic Park. In the Scherzo (and following Intermezzo – hardly less lively) he’s a model of ceaseless, bright and brittle energy. In the Finale he controls his relentless virtuosity in a way which made me feel he still sees this work as part of the grand Russian tradition. 

Zhang receives superb support from the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Dima Slobodeniouk. I read a review of this CD where the reviewer, uncannily, made a similar reference to the way Zhang handles the opening of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in such a way as to make the listener want to hear the rest of the “story”. Exactly! It’s a challenge to make this, of all concertos, sound worth exploring, but Zhang’s rendition really emphasises cogency and charm, rather than flashy, splashy
brio. He’s certainly poured sparkling new wine into very well-used, old bottles. The sound is excellently vivid.