Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Leif Ove Andsnes; LSO/ Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: EMI 640 5162

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As we might expect from a soloist of such calibre, Leif Ove Andsnes’s new version of Rachmaninov’s greatest piano concerto – the Third – is a highly competitive contender. This is Andsnes’s second recording of the work, and far surpasses his 1995 live concert version for EMI Classics.

He manages to make the first movement sound more sinister and wayward than most of his rivals, yet he’s in his element in etching the filigree and fioriture of the highly-decorated solo part in the slow movement. These contrary traits are swept up and given headlong impetus in a tremendously exciting account of the Finale.

The Fourth Concerto, heard as usual in the revised version of 1941, also emerges as a work more to be reckoned with than in many other interpretations. Its finale – another wild and irresistible ride – is especially thrilling, Andsnes throwing off the tricky figuration as if its difficulties didn’t exist, but the work as a whole benefits from the excellent recorded balance: although Antonio Pappano’s direction of the LSO is efficient rather than inspired, the sonics allow the detail of the often complex orchestral writing  to register at its full weight.

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A superb disc, then – but not quite up there with the stellar greats: who include Michelangeli in the Fourth (EMI), Ashkenazy (Decca) and Horowitz (1951, RCA, and all the way from 1930, Biddulph) in the Third, and Rachmaninov himself, of course, in both. But among contemporary accounts these new versions by Andsnes are without doubt in the front rank. Calum MacDonald