Rachmaninov/Shostakovich/Lutoslawski

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov/Shostakovich/Lutoslawski
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43
PERFORMER: Peter Jablonski (piano)RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 239-2 DDD
These three pieces make interesting stable mates. The only composer to be represented with music typical of his oeuvre is Rachmaninov: the justly famous Rhapsody lacks only a Nigel Kennedy or Pavarotti to earn the undying adoration of the masses. Lutoslawski’s equivalent is a bluff, and it should be regarded with caution by those wishing to acquaint themselves further with this towering figure in 20th-century music.

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It is an arrangement, albeit imaginative and quirky, of Paganini’s original Caprice and is the only survivor of hundreds of similar pieces he churned out during the wartime years. The only thing that is typical about the Shostakovich piece is the casual blend of cheek and seriousness that defies analysis.

Jablonski’s approach to the Rachmaninov is overtly virtuosic, brittle and heavily accented.His control and accuracy are formidable, especially at the hair-raising tempi he adopts for the opening variations. The orchestral tutti are sharply focused and the woodwind have been drawn into a prominence that may be a little artificial but is entertaining and revealing nevertheless. The only trouble is that this sonic powerhorse cannot quite loosen its stride enough to make the most of the mild and honeyed lusciousness of the 18th variation.

The Shostakovich has the benefit of an honest, uncluttered performance, which does more justice to the piece than those accounts which seek to reinforce its enduring popularity as a neo-Romantic showpiece. The central slow movement is poised and elegant, whilst the barnstorming humour of the last, littered with quotations, is never overplayed.

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The Lutoslawski is a worthwhile filler, whose stabbing rhythms are ideally suited to Jablonski’s peppery virtuosity.Christopher Lambton