Rachmaninov Piano Concertos

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 4; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano); Malmo Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes


Noriko Ogawa has carved out a particularly strong reputation as a performer of French music, so it’s hardly surprising that she should bring much of the refinement and sensibility required for such repertoire to Rachmaninov’s rather different sound-world. Whereas other performers opt for a full-blown, percussive approach to the composer’s most densely argued writing, Ogawa never forces the tone. She ensures that beauty, clarity and richness of sound are sustained at all costs, even in the most thunderous passages of the first-movement cadenza in the First Piano Concerto and the more ‘modernist’ episodes in the Paganini Rhapsody.

Yet to suggest that her playing is cool, detached and uninvolving would be utterly misleading. Initially I wondered whether the tempo for the opening movement of the First Concerto was a little too measured for the Vivace tempo prescribed by the composer. But Ogawa has such an instinctive feeling for the ebb and flow of the musical argument that any doubts quickly evaporate.

Furthermore, Ogawa, superbly supported by the wonderfully responsive Owain Arwel Hughes (see ‘Music to my ears’, p19) and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, steers a clearly delineated and convincing journey through the more emotionally elusive narrative of the Fourth Piano Concerto. The clarity of Ogawa’s fingerwork in some of the fast passagework in the Finale is a joy to behold, as is her seductive and caressing approach to the slow movement.

These recordings were made as long ago as 1998 and 2001, begging the obvious question as to why they have not appeared before now. But BIS engineers have come up trumps with beautifully warm sound. By any standards, this is an outstanding release.


Erik Levi