Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3; Prelude in F minor, Op. 32/3; Étude-tableau in C sharp minor, Op. 33/6

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 3; Prelude in F minor, Op. 32/3; Étude-tableau in C sharp minor, Op. 33/6
PERFORMER: Arcadi Volodos (piano); Berlin PO/James Levine
As playing, this is extraordinary. Arcadi Volodos’s technical command in Rachmaninoff’s supremely challenging Concerto is of the kind which sends the reviewer leaping for the replay button. It isn’t just that he has all the notes under his fingers: his articulation in even the most frenziedly agile writing is remarkably precise – you feel that every fleeting note is stressed exactly as Volodos wants it to be. In the first movement cadenza (Volodos opts for the heavier and more difficult version) the power and clarity are breathtaking. Again the elegant shaping is as impressive as the force, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard this cadenza pedalled more effectively – how often the climax degenerates into a pounding, opaque mess. There’s also delicacy, a fine singing legato – and as the late Kenny Everett would have said, it’s all in the best possible taste. So why not five stars? Because there’s something oddly reserved about the end result. The spotlight is on brilliance and beauty; emotion remains backstage –not absent, but kept at a distance. And it’s possible to be too reserved in this calculatedly barn-storming concerto. For a performance with all Volodos’s brilliance, but which isn’t afraid to risk vulgarity – shock effect, up-front fire and passion – go for Martha Argerich on Philips. The recording (live, like this one) isn’t so pleasing in tone, though even the modern Sony highlights the soloist slightly at the expense of the orchestra. There’s no such problem in the solo pieces though, and here Volodos seems entirely at home, technically and temperamentally. Stephen Johnson