Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Medtner,Rachmaninov
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4 (original version)
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano); North Carolina Symphony/Grant Llewellyn
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1728

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The original 1926 version of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto has been recorded before – by Alexander Ghindin with the Helsinki Philharmonic under Ashkenazy, on Ondine – but  this may be the first recording by a pianist who outright believes
in it.

The remarkable Yevgeny Sudbin, in a passionately-argued liner note, thinks Rachmaninov ‘should have stuck to his guns… [the original version is] superior, in terms of both form and emotional impact… a truly epic work and, as an added “bonus”, much more insanely difficult’ than the truncated later version.

If his exhilarating, barnstorming, spine-tingling performance still doesn’t quite convince (the truth is, both versions have their problems), he manages to show it is a very different, altogether wilder conception than the tidied-up 1941 revision, whose drastic cuts deprived us of some striking music.

Sudbin also stresses the work’s connection to and even dialogue with Rachmaninov’s great friend Medtner, whose Second Concerto, given this particular coupling, here emerges as the stronger work.

Despite rival versions by Demidenko, Hamish Milne and Berezovsky, Sudbin also sets his individual stamp on this rhythmically vital and superbly constructed score. BIS’s recording is absolutely outstanding.

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The North Carolina Symphony play as if possessed, but seem – perhaps it’s the balance – to field a smaller body of strings than one’s used to in this repertoire. The result is that Medtner’s brilliant and often witty wind writing comes much more into the picture, raising the work even further in one’s estimation.

Sudbin’s pianism comes into its own in a breathtaking encore, his own solo transcription of ‘Spring Waters’ from Rachmaninov’s Op. 14 songs. Callum MacDonald