Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1; Preludes; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Anna Fedorova (piano); St. Gallen Symphony Orchestra/Modestas Pitrenas
Channel Classics CCS 42620 69:00 mins
On paper, this is not the most intriguing programme: Rachmaninov’s least original concerto with its obvious echoes of Grieg, coupled with his frequently recorded Paganini Rhapsody, plus as an interlude four fairly familiar preludes. But given the quality of the musicianship and the excellent recorded sound, this is recommendable for anyone who is perhaps making their first venture beyond the Second Concerto.
Or indeed even for anyone who perhaps thinks they are familiar with the First Concerto. That Anna Fedorova has a special feeling for this work is not only evident in her introductory essay in the booklet: the way the second theme – the work’s first moment of quintessential Rachmaninov – emerges dream-like out of silence is very special. Conductor Modestas Pitrenas is fully sympathetic with Fedorova’s approach, taking time to relish what she describes as the Concerto’s ‘complex harmonic language.’ Yet there is no shortage of élan in the finale.
Fedorova’s reflective yet never over-indulgent style of playing is also evident in the preludes. Her technique is fluent but never facile – witness the crystalline textures of the G sharp minor Prelude. After all this thoughtful playing, the Paganini Rhapsodyinitially appears a scintillating and very extensive encore, demonstrating Fedorova’s fire and theatrical qualities. Yet with the hushed opening of the 11th variation we enter a more enchanted world, and Fedorova’s characteristically thoughtful interpretation from that point makes us hear that there’s far more to that work than mere pyrotechnics, culminating quite naturally in the celebrated 18th variation.