Marc-André Hamelin plays Piano Concertos by Medtner and Rachmaninov

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COMPOSERS: Medtner,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Medtner * Rachmaninov
WORKS: Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68145

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Hyperion has previously recorded both these concertos, albeit not in this unusual pairing. Rachmaninov’s Third – a formidable challenge for any pianist, particularly when performed complete as it is here (unlike Rachmaninov’s own version) – is coupled with his friend Medtner’s Second Concerto, a work almost exactly contemporary with Rachmaninov’s Fourth with which it shares thematic echoes. Expectations are inevitably high as Marc-André Hamelin, who marries phenomenal technique with sensitive musicianship, joins Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, now truly a world-class ensemble.

Medtner comes first, Hamelin launching this in a portentous, or at least deliberate, manner compared to the fleet-fingered start by his distinguished Hyperion predecessor, Nikolai Demidenko. Yet Hamelin’s playing soon takes flight, and the Concerto works its charm, sparkling with virtuosity and – particularly in the finale – with wit. It also receives the most polished orchestral playing it has enjoyed on any recording.

The emotional temperature is rather cooler for the Rachmaninov, for all Hamelin’s unfailingly deft handling of its challenging passagework. Tempos are notably steadier than in other recorded accounts, which may reflect the fact the present recording was made immediately after live performances (which do not, of course, offer a recording studio’s ‘pit stops’) – so may reflect a more ‘honest’ account of this challenging work. Yet I can’t help feeling rather underwhelmed by the end result. Despite the rousing finale, Hamelin does not blow the cobwebs off this warhorse as did the late Zoltán Kocsis (on Philips), the Hungarian’s electrifyingly virtuosity making even the potentially sprawling full-length version compellingly dramatic throughout.

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Daniel Jaffé