ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov Piano Concertos 1-4
WORKS: Piano Concertos 1-4; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
PERFORMER: Valentina Lisitsa (piano); London Symphony orchestra/Michael Francis
CATALOGUE NO: 4784890
It could have been much worse. I was hardly encouraged by images of Valentina Lisitsa as garden nymph in evening dress, nor by her successful manipulation of social media to secure these recordings. But then I heard the Ukrainian pianist’s genuine Russian-school weightiness and her transcendental, glittering runs in the first of Rachmaninov’s five concertos (the Paganini Rhapsody being the fifth in all but name). I marvelled at the unsentimental fluidity and togetherness with her orchestral colleagues. This is, despite what I’ve read, an impressive CD showcasing for the LSO’s ex-double bass player, now successful conductor, Michael Francis, and it’s frankly amazing to read that the team plunged into the Abbey Road sessions without having met and with no rehearsals. The balancing, so often wrong in Rachmaninov concertos, here keeps the pianist in lively interplay with strings, woodwind solos and some specially distinguished horn phrasing.
Lisitsa follows Rachmaninov the pianist’s brisk cue, but she doesn’t rush (like Stephen Hough, a marvellous artist simply unsuited to this repertoire). For that reason, some may find the Third Concerto over-speedy and slick. On the minus side, there’s not enough riveting individuality, little in the way of striking tone colour, and few quiet dynamics, none of the constant flickering between piano and forte that the Rhapsody especially needs. Plus points are the first movement of the Second Concerto and the drive that stitches together the disconsolate Fourth, both above the average three stars for the set as a whole.