Somehow this issue got past me when it was released. I usually get everything Marc-Andr'é Hamelin records immediately after it comes out; this time a whole month went by! But it's never too late and I was certainly delighted to come by this release from January 2004. The disc contains three of the most insouciant piano concertos ever written. Shostakovich has two personalities: the somber, angst-filled one as in the two violin concerti, and the class cut-up as in these two piano concertos. Here we get Shostakovich the scamp, and in a somewhat similar style, the piano concerto by Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932). Hamelin is perfect for these concerti because, even though they are not the super-virtuosic type he often records, they require a certain devil-may-care quality which he possesses in abundance (just listen to his recordings of the over-the-top Alkan minor key 'tudes or the Godowsky recastings of the Chopin 'Études). Further, because he has accompanied his wife, singer Jody Applebaum, in some down-and-dirty cabaret songs by Bolcom, Britten and Sch'önberg, he has the experience to play barroom piano as required in the both the Shostakovich concerti. And he seems to be right at home with the bop piano sections of the Shchedrin. You can't tell me that Shchedrin wasn't familiar with Lenny Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety' Symphony; the piano style is right down that alley. He's given terrific backing by the BBC Scottish Symphony under Andrew Litton. The superb trumpet soloist in the First Concerto is Mark O'Keeffe.
I'd never heard the Shchedrin Concerto before, so I can't compare it with any other performances. But I've long had and loved the recording that Shostakovich made as pianist with André' Cluytens conducting. That has been reissued, with somewhat cleaned-up sound, on EMI and is still available. The sound is somewhat brittle compared to this issue and obviously is to be valued because of Shostakovich's presence, but I think I like the Hamelin performances more. I also like Yefim Bronfman's recording of the Shostakovich concerti, available on Sony, and it has the advantage of also including a terrific performance of the Piano Quintet with members of the Juilliard Quartet.