Rachmaninov: Concertos Nos 1 & 4; Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Mirare
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Concertos Nos 1 & 4; Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini
PERFORMER: Boris Berezovsky (piano); Ural Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Liss
CATALOGUE NO: MIR 019
Berezovsky’s cool head is more of an asset in these three concertos, where lyricism is on a tighter rein, than in the other half of his Rachmaninov cycle (the Second and Third Concertos, reviewed in the March 2006 issue). He makes light-fingered work of the flyaway passages in the outer movements of the concertos and the more glittering variations of the Paganini Rhapsody – unadvertised, oddly enough, on the CD cover – but he can quickly don a heavier mantle when the music requires. The big cadenza of the First Concerto is certainly weighty, only to yield to a spring-heeled coda; after the deft opening business of the Rhapsody, with never a second’s slack between variations, the sequence after the Dies Irae has made its first appearance takes on a darker, more demonic cast. The two slow movements and the more reflective variations are all voiced at times on the threshold of audibility, as if Berezovsky is quietly meditating and improvising as he goes.

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It’s a pity, as before, that the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra is so soft-grained. Dmitri Liss is good at keeping tabs on his mercurial soloist, but the ensemble sounds diffuse in the perhaps over-generous acoustics of the Metz Arsenal and the brass are taxed in the more driven stretches of the Rhapsody. On the plus side, there are some well-lit woodwind solos and a characterful tuba in the first movement of the Fourth Concerto. For a sharper-edged rapport between soloist and orchestra, try the similarly objective Lugansky with Sakari Oramo and the CBSO. David Nice