Rachmaninov – Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Simon Trpceski (piano); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2192

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Notwithstanding some fearsome competition, this first instalment in a projected Rachmaninov Concerto cycle is an impressive achievement. Simon Trpceski and Vasily Petrenko present a completely integrated conception of each work.

It’s not merely a case of Petrenko being sufficiently flexible to allow his soloist latitude in terms of mapping the ebb and flow of each movement, but a much more subtle process in which the orchestral textures are carefully blended to match the specific character of the piano writing at a particular moment – for instance the furtive sounds that accompany the pianist’s opening melody in the Third Concerto.

Likewise in certain passages, especially in the slow movement of the Second, Trpceski’s sensitivity as a chamber musician is evident with some haunting interplay between his melodic lines and those of the solo woodwind.

Of the two performances, beautifully recorded in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, I found the Third the most consistently gripping. Despite that work’s tendency to being somewhat discursive in structure, Trpceski and Petrenko know exactly when to push the musical argument forward and where it requires a bit more poise and reflection. The results are invariably compelling if not quite on the white-hot level of intensity achieved by Martha Argerich in her classic Philips recording.

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The Second is also delivered with warmth yet avoids unwarranted indulgence. Rather surprisingly, the finale sounds a little ponderous in places, a flaw largely avoided by Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton on Hyperion. There’s also an unfortunate bit of poor woodwind tuning at 8:38 in the slow movement which should ideally have been edited out. But those wanting these works in committed performances and excellent sound will certainly not be disappointed by this release. Erik Levi