Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Danacord
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
PERFORMER: Oleg Marshev (piano); Aarhus SO/James Loughran
CATALOGUE NO: DACOCD 582-83
On first hearing Oleg Marshev’s opening salvo in Rachmaninov’s First Concerto (and his eruption into the cadenza later in the same movement) I was predisposed to like these performances. Indeed, they prove to be honest, committed, and founded on ample technical aplomb. Save for the Fourth, in which pianist and conductor miss the energy and wiry irony necessary to redeem a problematic work from the charge of triviality, these performances struck me as genuinely felt and absorbing ones. My initial goodwill dissipated, however. Without adopting an overtly revisionistic interpretative approach, Marshev and Loughran seem to focus on making Rachmaninov sound structurally cohesive by underplaying expressive extremes and by avoiding spontaneous detailing. The beginning of the Third Concerto encapsulates this strategy: after presenting the theme, Marshev plays every note evenly and clearly, resolutely refusing to let the figuration swirl, and then responds cautiously to injunctions to speed up (and, by implication, to show some temperament). To be blunt, these performances ultimately seem decidedly unidiomatic; listening again to the composer’s own accounts confirms that gestures and shapes in the fabric of the music are an integral part of its structure. Of course, Rachmaninov’s own vision of these pieces is not the only valid one, but later pianists who manage to convey some of the structural integrity at which Marshev aims (say, Richter in the First and Second, Volodos in the Third, and Michelangeli in the Fourth) also find more vivid life in the moment than does this comparatively stolid newcomer. David Breckbill

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