, January 2007
No TV, no radio, no CD player -- welcome to the 19th-century home. The piano was the only "entertainment centre" available, so even the humblest homes had a small upright.
Amateurs bashed out the popular songs of the day, but for the more gifted there was always Beethoven's nine symphonies.
Yes, the same nine symphonies performed by orchestras of between 40 and 80 players. Famed piano virtuoso Franz Liszt transcribed those monumental works so they could be played by 10 fingers on an 88-key piano.
You have to be brilliant to make them work, which is just the word to describe this recording by Russian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov. He brings the nine alive in almost six hours of witty, profound and always majestic playing.
It's like rediscovering pieces you thought you knew, with melodies and interesting detail rescued from the orchestral mud of so many recordings by big symphony orchestras. And the neglected first, second, fourth and eighth symphonies actually sound better to my ears on the piano than in their original orchestral versions.
Scherbakov delivers a thunderstorm of octaves for the "The Thunderstorm" of the "Symphony No. 6 (The Pastorale)" and while the famous "Symphony No. 5" is a little too forceful, his rhythm is irresistible. Even without a mighty chorus, the "Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy)" still works its noble magic.
An outstanding five-CD box set -- every Beethoven lover should have this.