Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: RCA
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano); Russian
State SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: Red Seal 88697279722

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RCA sat for years on a few recordings that turned out to be outstanding, including Temirkanov’s Prokofiev, but this is not on the whole one of them. As Robert Maycock discreetly hints in his booklet note, the real reason for this 1993 Strasbourg session to surface is as a document of Svetlanov and his ‘orchestra with a voice’, as Gergiev called it, in works with which they are not currently represented in the CD catalogue. It’s certainly worth hearing what the Russian players make of the big lyric themes in both concertos, with idiomatic rubato (and a bit of Svetlanovian retouching of the score in the First’s slow movement, where strings replace a solo bassoon); and though I can’t agree with Maycock’s comment that the studio recording is ‘very live-sounding’, the final charge and ricochet chords of the Third Concerto do suddenly catch fire. Douglas, alas, is some way behind them in terms of character and atmosphere. He starts both concertos well, and is clean and clear with Rachmaninov’s filigree writing, but the first movements seem to sprawl. There’s one point at which Svetlanov seems to inspire him – in the leisurely memories at the heart of the Third’s finale, formerly much cut and here starting much slower than Rachmaninov’s scherzando tempo indicates, but none the worse for that. The piano sound can be metallic, the close-quartered orchestra often brittle. Most of the famous interpreters are streets ahead of this; for understated individuality in the First, try Nikolai Lugansky, while Argerich shows what lies behind the romantic impetus of the Third. David Nice