Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)Malmö SO/Owain Arwel Hughes
CATALOGUE NO: CD-900
Students of piano technique might enjoy the chance to hear just about every note of the soloist’s part in both of these concertos, for Ogawa keeps a steady rein on crystalline articulation and the recorded balance between her and an appropriately velvety orchestra is exemplary in helping with the detail. That, unfortunately, is as far as it goes. There’s no flyaway fantasy, none of the adrenalin rushes needed to remind us what a strange adventure the Third Concerto, for all its glitter, can really offer. The real test is the slow burn of reminiscence which Rachmaninov quirkily substitutes for the finale’s development; Ogawa, skimming dexterously over the surface, fails us badly here.

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The slow movement of the Second has a certain austere nobility, but its counterpart in the Third – like the massive version of the first-movement cadenza which Ogawa opts to play – never grandly strains the leash as it should. Hughes and his Malmö players seem to have no option but to follow suit; the orchestral playing is distinguished and surprisingly rich, the pace rarely ideal. Perhaps the rating is a little generous, then, but merely reflects the fact that everything is where it should be – everything but the essence of a living, breathing performance. David Nice