Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1
Yevgeny Sudbin is an artist of the first rank, but do Lan Shui and the Singpore Symphony Orchestra deserve the lion’s share of this disc? Well, the orchestra is sleek and well balanced in a handsome recording from its Esplanade Concert Hall home, and Shui has his own ideas about Rachmaninov’s most personal and obsessive symphony. But I don’t go with him in a first movement of fits and starts, its spacious premise announced in a giant but perhaps over-prolonged manifestation of Rachmaninov’s gloomy motto (which refers to the Biblical inscription, ‘Vengeance is mine, I shall repay’). The Allegro needs to move, and there shouldn’t be quite so much fiddling about with dynamics; at the softer end, the thread gets lost. Much of the rest is better, if not quite personal enough in the achingly beautiful slow movement, and though the finale’s chaotic charge towards doom is too fast for proper articulation, the ultimate tragedy is deeply felt.
More momentum comes from Sudbin in the handsomely revised First Piano Concerto, originally from even further back in Rachmaninov’s precociously gifted youth. The transcendental runs are brilliant, the colossal first-movement cadenza even bounces and the distinction between loud and soft never feels mannered. Above all, Sudbin’s playing feels as if he’s improvising whole swathes. Performances of the Concerto don’t come much better than this.