Having interviewed Russian pianist Andrei Hoteev for the last Fanfare about his complete recording of the Tchaikovsky works for piano and orchestra, I hedged my bets in my review about Hoteev’s cautious tempos—he says they are Tchaikovsky’s originals, but they often fail to convince, even though they do allow Hoteev to project the detail of Tchaikovsky’s piano textures with considerable clarity. Now here’s undeniable proof that clarity does not have to be sacrificed to excitement: Andreas Boyde and his Freiburg fellows take Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto at much faster speeds than Hoteev and Fedoseyev, with enormous gains in conviction—and this performance likewise uses the uncut original version of the score. Indeed, Boyde turns in one of the best interpretations I have yet heard. It’s a fabulous reading, tender and blisteringly exciting by turns, with a dexterity that suggests Horowitz himself—on more than one occasion I found myself holding my breath with excitement. Johannes Fritzsch, conducting the Freiburg Philharmonic, provides an accompaniment that would be acceptable from many a better-known orchestra, even if there’s sometimes a bit of edge in the string body when it has to play out. And though the violin and cello solos prominent in the second movement aren’t always in tune, the principal flute, who pops up all over the place, dispatches his (or her) solos with perfect aplomb.

The unpredictable coupling—Shostakovich’s snoot-cocking Ninth Symphony, another instance of the incredible risks he took in maintaining his distance from Stalin—is explained in the origins of this disc in two live concerts, recorded on January 13 and 14, 1997 (which, incidentally, makes Boyde’s technique all the more impressive); the concert is one of a series scheduled to appear as the “Freiburg Edition.” But concerts and CDs are different fora, and after Boyde’s electric Tchaikovsky, Fritzsch’s Shostakovich, which in all fairness is a passable enough reading, is little more than filling: Tighter rhythms and a fiercer onward drive might have rescued it. The essence of all humor is concision, and Fritzsch doesn’t tell this one with enough poise. The audience, by the way, is discretion itself—not a peep from them until the well-deserved applause bursts out at the end.

—Martin Anderson