Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov Lang Lang
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
PERFORMER: Lang Lang, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5231
Comparisons cry out to be made,

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at the start of the Second Concerto,

between Lang Lang’s hypnotically

slow but utterly commanding funeral

bells, recent contender Stephen

Hough’s hyper-metronomic speed

(on Hyperion) and Rachmaninov

the pianist’s magisterial golden mean.

If, once the strings sweep in, the

flamboyant 22-year old man-of-themoment

suggests a peacock displaying

rather than the other two pianists’

eagles soaring, that’s not entirely his

fault: DG has placed its microphones

virtually inside the piano lid while

the orchestra appears to be in the

next room with the door open. It

says much for Lang Lang that even at

close quarters the tone never becomes

forced or clangorous, and even more

for Gergiev and his Mariinsky forces

that they project steely personality

and brooding atmosphere across the

great divide. And the Mariinsky strings

perfectly reflect the pianist’s utterly

original, cool and aristocratic handling

of the big tune in the finale.

There are plenty of original touches

in the Paganini Rhapsody, too: a grave

and ultimately hair-raising treatment

of the intruding ‘Dies irae’, teasing

freedom in the minuet variation and

plenty of dark temperament on the

climb to the high plateau of Var. 18.

The solemn final gesture, though,

encapsulates a lack of the wit and dash

that complement the comparable poise

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of Nikolai Lugansky. David Nice