Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano); CBSO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 619446-2
Lugansky stands proudly apart from other recent interpreters of Rachmaninov’s familiar Second Concerto and makes no claims here to reshape its Romantic universe. Instead he respects the canny interplay of epic sweep and transcendental fantasy with an objectivity that has every aspect of the work undemonstratively within its grasp and every note right under his fingers (sample the opening theme of the finale, where the clarity of the inner line is little short of phenomenal). Some find his intellectual rigour cold, but he’s clearly not playing at the grim majesty of the first movement, and there’s sudden, desperate poignancy in the finale’s big tune second time around. The Adagio is without affectation, grounded by Lugansky’s Richter-like ability to find a still but never soft centre. Then there’s the continuing partnership with Oramo and the CBSO, who unlike a backwardly-placed Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in the recent Lang Lang spectacular (on DG) share equal recorded honours with their soloist. Developmental dialogues between piano and orchestral soloists all catch fire; long crescendos keep everyone on their toes.

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Rachmaninov asks for a different approach in the puzzling Fourth Concerto, making a virtue out of fragmentary visions. Here Lugansky plays the brilliant conversationalist, moving from one topic to the other with feeling and a vague sense of disquiet, ample compensation for the absence of the demonic drive in Ashkenazy’s earlier recording with André Previn. Full marks again to Oramo and his orchestra for doing so much with the brief flowerings of lyric respite. David Nice