Bob and Ray Throw
a Stereo Spectacular, Part Four:
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Argerich, Dutoit, Royal
Deutsche Grammophon DG 2530 112
[Cartoon by Bruce Walker]
The thundering crash of brass on foot thick Honduran mahogany announced that Bob the Diver Duchan had arrived to collaborate again on crazed, albeit scientific, investigations into, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Having consumed the Positive Feedback Office of Scientific Research's entire supply of aged Stilton and vintage wine in our last listening session, my tame butler Igor was reduced to serving tomato soup and saltines as refreshments.
Me and Igor, the tame…
The Argentinian fireballer Martha Argerich has recorded Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto twice in studio. We listened to the earlier recording with her husband Charles Dutoit conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We had on hand an original issue Deutsche Grammophon DG 2530 112 weighing in at 116 grams, and a 180 gram re-issue from the German high-end company Clearaudio. We disagreed on which version was better, but we definitely agreed there was a night-and-day difference. Bob preferred the more spacious sound of the reissue, while Ray liked the richer tones of the original.
The Clearaudio re-issue had a gorgeous 3D soundstage. When I closed my eyes I could locate the individual instruments in space like in a live performance. The dynamics were excellent. Individual instruments, piano, violins, flute and bass all sounded startlingly lifelike. In short, I would buy this edition for myself. The only drawback was some surface noise on the inner grooves on both sides.
By contrast, I found the bass line in the original issue harder to follow, and the balance between the two channels sounded off. I also felt I couldn't hear the piano and bass as clearly as in the Clearaudio re-issue.
The Tchaikovsky is a chord-pounder, but Argerich rescues the piano part from monotony with an astonishing combination of power and speed when playing the octaves. She manages to give the phrases shape so they're not just runs up and down the keyboard. In the quiet passages, she has a melting touch. The orchestral sections need no rescuing, with lushly romantic melodies.
On the original issue, the piano is presented with a deeply resonant bass, making this a most exciting recording. The upper registers are also well recorded so that the piano doesn't end up with a tubby sound. The same full sound appears on the other instruments with gorgeous harmonics. The woodwinds have a rich and beautifully rounded tone. The Clearaudio re-issue had a more recessed presentation with the piano receding into the soundstage. At the same time, I thought the color palette was more bleached as though some of the harmonics had been rubbed off, making for a duller, less involving performance. It was a stark difference between the two editions.
We set the volume to register 100dB, with the Radio Shack meter set to C weighting on the lead-in grooves to side one. For a fleeting moment, we were tempted to listen to only side one to minimize listening fatigue. Very fleeting. The hot breath of the ghost of George Bernard Shaw inveighing against the practice of performing great bleeding chunks brought us back into line.
All editions were bought through regular retail channels same as you, gentle reader.
The System That Time Forgot ®
Cartridge: Benz LP
Bob & Ray: Remember to replenish the supplies of aged Stilton and vintage wine.
Igor: Yes, masters. That is very, Very, VERY important.