Rachmaninov: Piano concertos 1 & 2/Andsnes

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Leif Ove Andsnes and Antonio Pappano deliver full-bodied and intelligently detailed readings of Rachmaninov’s first two concertos that rightly project the composer’s virtuosic keyboard writing and scintillating orchestration on equal footing. EMI’s vivid engineering gives welcome yet never distracting presence to first-desk solos, rapid woodwind flurries, and sweeping brass counterpoints. It also captures a fair amount of heavy breathing from either the soloist or conductor. However, the Berlin Philharmonc strings beckon your primary attention, as Pappano inspires them to throb, sigh, and sing as if Leopold Stokowski had come back to life–although the heavy vibrato in the First concerto’s opening theme borders on Mantovani’s oleaginous turf.

Andsnes’ ample sonority matches the orchestra’s lush tonal resources, and his headlong shaping of lyrical passages (particularly in the slow movements) makes expressive points through dynamic inflection and color, with discreet rubato. And unlike certain young, heavily promoted soloists who’ve recorded “Rach Two”, Andsnes knows when to step out of the spotlight and accompany.

Among individual editions, I lean toward the Janis, Kocsis, and Wild Firsts for their suppler, more balletic approaches to the finale, or the bracing excitement with which Zimerman and Richter ignite the Second’s concluding movement. Still, Andsnes and Pappano undoubtedly are world-class contenders in a crowded market, and I hope they plan further recorded collaborations.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Hough (Hyperion), No. 1: Janis (Mercury), No. 2: Richter (DG)

SERGEI RACHMANINOV - Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor Op. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18

  • EMI - 4 74813 2
  • CD

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