This was a wonderful way of reacquainting myself with 3 concertos I hadn't heard in a while. Lise de la Salle, 18 when she recorded these, has already received much acclaim for her solo discs but this is the first full album of hers that I've heard.
Prokofiev wrote his first concerto when he was 21, so in the age sense at least de la Salle is an excellent match. The opening here, that memorable theme, seemed less huge than I remembered it, though still dramatic. Subsequently going back to the Ashkenazy-LSO-Previn recording confirmed my memory and highlighted what it is that de la Salle and her coperformers bring to the table. Ashkenazy and Previn play the concerto big, as one of the masterpieces of the repertoire, with all the gestures that entails. But with de la Salle and Lawrence Foster I get the impression that this is 21-year-old Prokofiev, who hasn't yet become one of the great composers - we're not looking at the music retrospectively, as it were, filtered through everything else we know of his work. That means the cheekiness of the work comes across more in the present performance - it's not part of the musical establishment yet. The recorded balance between piano and orchestra is also a factor, though: de la Salle is much more integrated. So at around 2:50 in the first movement, there's a moment where the orchestra sounds like it's trying to muscle past the piano but gets brushed aside - funny in de la Salle's performance, hardly noticeable in Ashkenazy's. What fascinates me, as it always does, is how 2 very different performances of a work can ultimately be equally valid. If you have a particular view of this concerto then you might not like de la Salle's version but I had an awful lot of fun.
It's the same story with the Liszt. Richter-LSO-Kondrashin give it everything, it's magnificent and brash, and it sounds exactly like you expect a Liszt piano concerto to sound. But I listen to the new recording and I'm compelled to ask "but what if I didn't know what to expect?" It's a much less Romantic view of the music, less vivid, less flamboyant... and yet I find it works wonderfully. There's a sort of subtlety to it that, like in the Prokofiev, cuts across my preconceived notion of Liszt. I also found a certain impishness there that I wasn't expecting. You might disagree, but my point is that there's plenty of room for both ideas.
Which leaves Shostakovich. I don't know if there is a "classic" performance of this like there is with the other concertos; the recording I have is Brautigam-RCO-Chailly. Again, the new recording scores lower on brashness but higher on sound picture and on beauty - the piano entry in the slow movement is gorgeously Mozartian.
So what do we have overall? Three short, showy concertos that I suspect you couldn't listen to consecutively in the 3 comparative versions I've mentioned - it would just be a little too intense, I think. But this single disc manages to combine them perfectly by toning down the raucousness and adding some sensitivity that's at times unexpected. Absolutely recommended as a second recording of each piece or as a great package for first-time buyers.