Rachmaninov • Sibelius
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor; Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D
Gerard Aimontche (piano); Chineke! Orchestra/Roderick Cox
Signum Classics SIGCD 548 84:42 mins (2 discs)
Two years after its foundation specifically to raise the profile of young Black and Minority Ethnic classical musicians in the UK and Europe, the Chineke! Orchestra is heard here at full strength in a live concert given on 16 July 2017 in the Royal Festival Hall. Alas, the venue is the main caveat. Even after its acoustic make-over a decade ago, it remains a dry, unhelpful ambience for recording purposes; starving instruments – particularly the upper strings – of resonance and, at times, making the orchestra sound more lightweight than its 70-odd line-up should. Matters are not helped by the ‘placing’ of the piano – itself none-too flatteringly recorded – far forward of the orchestra, so that some of Rachmaninov’s orchestral detail is covered.
That said, the notorious difficulties of the solo writing seem to present no problem to the agile and sonorous pianism of the young Russian virtuoso Gerard Aimontche, while the American conductor Roderick Cox unfolds Rachmaninov’s leisurely and discursive continuities with a firm hand. Cox also offers a forthright performance of the Sibelius. His must be among the most electrifying accounts in the catalogue of its strange dramatic scene of a second movement, despite the deadening effect of the Royal Festival Hall acoustic in Sibelius’s many abrupt silences. Of course, these readings are up against some legendary previous recordings, and the occasional roughness in the violins suggests that Chineke! was still finding its way at the time. But this double set is an encouraging marker of an orchestra on the rise.