Suh Hai-kyung recently became one of a handful of pianists to have completed a recording of the full cycle of Thaikovsky’s works for orchestra and piano.
One Jan. 27, Deutsche Grammophon released two CDs of Suh’s interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s three piano concerti and a fantasy for orchestra and piano.
Today, the Russian composer is mostly known for his symphonies and ballet music. But for piano lovers, Tchaikovsky is defined by his first piano concerto, completed in 1875.
His compositions for the piano may not be as prolific as some other famous Russian composers like Scriabin, Prokofiev or Rachmaninov. Because of this one concerto, Tchaikovsky is one of the most important composers for pianists.
Suh’s recordings also unique, as Tchaikovsky’s three piano concertos are rarely played or recorded in a full cycle, unlike those composed by Beethoven, Brahms or Chopin.
“She is the first female pianist ever to record all of Tchaikovskys masterpieces for piano and orchestra,” Kelly Chung of Universal Music said. “What makes this recording special is that it also contains the original version of the first concerto in a separate track.”
There have been numerous recordings of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor,” one of the most popular concerti ever written in the history of Western classical music. But the rest of his music for piano and orchestra has been largely forgotten.
The immense popularity of this concerto has overshadowed some of his other output for the piano, including two other concerti and solo works in the form of sonatas and shorter pieces.
One of the few pianists in the past who have been able to complete all of Tchaikovsy’s works for piano and orchestra is Mikhail Pletnev, the piano virtuoso-turned conductor and founder of the Russian National Orchestra (RNO), the nation’s first independent orchestra.
Devotion to Russian music
Suh’s recordings were made in St. Petersburg, the artistic home of Tchaikovsky, in September 2011 with the St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of maestro Alexander Dmitriev.
In recent years, Suh has demonstrated a particular devotion to Russian music, having released a CD of Rachmaninovworks to some critical acclaim.
In 2009, Suh and Dmitriev completed a cycle of Rachmaninov piano concertos as well as the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” a hugely popular work for orchestra and piano.
Music critic Colin Anderson of Classical Source called the recording “a grand and sensitive performance, scintillating and lyrically blossoming.”
While Korea has produced some renowned string players like violinists Chung Kyung-wha or cellist Chang Han-na, pianists, particularly female, have had a harder time in making a name for themselves internationally. Suh is one of the first female pianists from Korea to attain international recognition.
The 53-year-old made her New York debut at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, in 1985, after completing her studies with Sascha Gorodnitzki at the Juilliard School.
Suh won the prestigious Busoni Competition at the age of 20, becoming the first Asian winner of the competition that had launched the careers of renowned pianists such as Martha Argerich and Garrick Ohlsson.
She is planning to give a recital in New York at the Lincoln Center with a program of Schumann, Schubert, Brahms and Beethoven on March 24.