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Babadjanian • Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 etc

Jean-Paul Gasparian (piano); Berner Sinfonieorchester/Stefan Blunier (Claves)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Babadjanian • Rachmaninov
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2; Babadjanian: Heroic Ballad
Jean-Paul Gasparian (piano); Berner Sinfonieorchester/Stefan Blunier
Claves CD 3004   55:11 mins

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The young French-Armenian pianist Jean-Paul Gasparian has already recorded substantial works by Rachmaninov, including the Second Piano Sonata, to much acclaim. It seems entirely appropriate, then, that he should record a work by that composer to open his debut concerto disc. But whether it was wise of him to choose the well-known Second Concerto for this purpose is another matter.

Gasparian has the measure of its technical challenges, delivering brilliant clarity in the capricious middle section of the slow movement and in the intricate passages in the Finale. But the performance as a whole is let down by his unduly strident tone in some of the more full-blooded sections, though I wonder whether this problem may well have been exacerbated by the closely miked recording of the piano in relation to the orchestra.

Still, this release is worth hearing for the first modern recording of the Heroic Ballad by Armenian composer, Arno Babadjanian. Composed in 1950 and awarded a Stalin Prize the following year, this accessible and skilfully conceived work, reflecting the dual influences of Rachmaninov and Khachaturian, was championed by no less a pianist than Emil Gilels and here receives a superbly vibrant performance from Gasparian.

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Erik Levi