Tharaud Plays Rachmaninov

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Tharaud Plays Rachmaninov
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3; Two Pieces for Piano, 6 hands; Vocalise
PERFORMER: Alexandre Tharaud (piano); with Sabine Devielhe (soprano), Aleksandar Madzar, Alexander Melnikov (piano); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Vedernikov
CATALOGUE NO: 295954697

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Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto is amongst the most widely recorded of Romantic piano concertos, yet Alexander Tharaud, accompanied devotedly by the RLPO and Alexander Vedernikov, creates the impression of the music being freshly minted. In Tharaud’s skilled hands melodies soar spontaneously and incidental points of contrapuntal interest arise naturally out of the music’s surging textures. His timing in the slow movement is exquisite (shades here of John Ogdon’s classic account with John Pritchard for EMI/Warner), and he strikes a convincing balance between free-flowing cantabile and virtuoso fingerwork. In an ideal world the string section would have a shade more presence and Rachmaninov’s suspended and clustered added-note harmonies might have been savoured more indulgently, but this is still a highly enjoyable account of Rachmaninov’s turn-of-the-century, return-to-form masterwork.     

In this case it is the relatively rare and unusual couplings that prove especially interesting. The early Op. 3 Morceaux de fantaisie feature one of the most haunting and indelible of all piano works: the Prelude in C sharp minor, played here with a refreshingly light touch, free of Gothic melodrama. Tharaud also captures memorably the wistful quality of the following ‘Mélodie’ and the infectious waltzing of the ‘Sérénade’ finale. Yet the stand-out track is Sabine Devieilhe’s exquisite phrasing and melt-in-the-mouth purity in the ravishing Vocalise – sung like this, words would only get in the way. To finish, captivating all-star performances of the two six-hand pieces, the first of which brings us full circle with a haunting premonition of the Concerto’s slow movement.

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Julian Haylock