Rachmaninov, Prokofiev

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev,Rachmaninov
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Mikhail Pletnev (piano); Russian National Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 471 576-2
‘As far as I’m concerned, the more variety, the better… If there is a grain of talent on offer, or a grain of vision in the musical performance, then I would tend to acknowledge it.’ So says Mikhail Pletnev in the booklet notes accompanying this unusual coupling of concertos by Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (the latter was said to have loathed the former). Exorbitant though his musical and pianistic talents may be, Pletnev’s mercurial, whimsical playing too often leaves an impression of emotional diffidence, the expressive charge dissipating amid exquisitely poised, voiced and coloured phrases that self-consciously embellish and garland rather than stir or inspire. There is an abundance of superficial variety, but ultimately one is left perplexed by the vision.

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Pletnev is atypical of current players in employing a 14-bar cut in the finale of the Rachmaninov and, indeed, his reading emerges in many ways as a rejoinder to the relentless, iron-clad performances heard in too many piano competitions – witness the feline skittishness of the same movement’s scherzando section, for example. Yet the dynamic shaping and sense of pulse frequently register as arbitrary, and Pletnev’s sustained nonchalance – not to mention an apparent lack of technical reserve, with the left hand in particular making strategic retreats into haze at several points – can prevent the music from building any head of steam.

The Prokofiev is even more urbane, sounding at times like a charmingly quirky, neo-classical ballet suite rather than a concerto of rich vitality and range. Tempi are measured, textures remarkably lucid, yet the results musically inert.

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Rostropovich and the Russian National Orchestra provide unusually detailed, generous support, caught in spacious recorded sound. This is nevertheless a disc for unwavering admirers of Pletnev (an artist who appears to be heading towards self-parody, alas); others will likely find Janis or Argerich offering greater satisfaction. Michael Glover