Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev,Rachmaninoff
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Shura Cherkassky (piano), BBC SO/Rudolf Schwarz, LPO/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4092-2 ADD/DDD mono/stereo
The 1979 concert which yielded this recording of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty was delayed by some 45 minutes because the BBC Symphony’s bass trombonist was caught in traffic; the intensity with which Gennady Rozhdestvensky launches the performance reflects his pent-up frustration over the player’s late arrival. On first hearing I felt sure that all concert-goers would gladly tolerate indefinite starting times if they could thereby guarantee performances of such powerful excitement. After further listening, though, I miss a satisfying expressive warmth and variety. The streamlined approach is often thrilling but wears thin over the course of more than two hours; by comparison, the occasional abbreviations in some of the dances represent an insignificant distraction.


Shura Cherkassky boasts an elusively spontaneous style; his playing so thoroughly focuses on expressive possibilities in the grain of the music as to bewilder those accustomed to listening for overall shape and structure. The resulting chain of moments – some breathtakingly beautiful, others maddeningly cavalier – seems less unusual in Rachmaninoff’s often sprawling Third Concerto than in Prokofiev’s Second, the opening movement of which is customarily portrayed as grim, monolithic and inexorable. Yet it is in this movement that Cherkassky most memorably deploys his full expressive arsenal from the erotic to the cataclysmic, unexpectedly transforming the work into a splendiferous display vehicle of the Romantic piano concerto tradition.


The disc devoted to Pierre Monteux, documenting his work with three British orchestras in the last years of his life, is a constant delight. Monteux finds both song and substance in Wagner’s Meistersinger Prelude and endows the Siegfried Idyll with childlike wonder; he renders Debussy’s Ibéria tangy and atmospheric and suffuses Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms with lyrical expression. This disc is a must for Monteux’s admirers; one could scarcely wish for a finer introduction to his artistry. David Breckbill