Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 7
Denis Matsuev is an amazing pianist. He shapes the Third Concerto’s fistfuls of notes with consummate mastery. The work’s opening theme has an easy elegance that’s very beguiling, and Matsuev shapes the more massive of the two cadenza alternatives with great power. In the finale, the opening theme never sounds merely scrambled, and the massive chordal second subject builds in huge crescendos, but Matsuev never bangs or loses control. With the Paganini Rhapsody, each variation has shape and character, and the closing few really do offer a clinic in virtuoso keyboard artistry. The variation in triplets right before the famous 18th is particularly noteworthy: very ominous, louder, and darker than usual.
So what’s the problem? With Matsuev, practically nothing. Gergiev and the orchestra, though, are another story. They accompany dutifully, but with nothing like the imagination we hear from the pianist. Solo winds sound dull; the strings lack vibrancy and heft. Gergiev fails to invest the music with the necessary rhythmic energy, particularly in the concerto’s first two movements. The sonics also fail to impress, being notably flat, with inconsistent balances between piano and orchestra. This matter most in the concerto, which features long stretches where the piano accompanies the orchestra, and not the other way around, and so needs to give up the spotlight. Matsuev’s instrument also tends to sound a bit wooden. In short, fine as Matsuev is, this could have been, and should have been, better.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Both Works: Kocsis (Philips)
SERGEI RACHMANINOV - Piano Concerto No. 3; Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini