Rachmninov • Rubinstein

COMPOSERS: Sergey Rachmaninov; Anton Rubinstein
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmninov • Rubinstein
WORKS: Piano Concerto No.3; Piano Concerto No.4
PERFORMER: Joseph Moog (piano); german State Philharmonic Orchestra of the Rhineland-Palatinate/Nicholas Milton
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX4089

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Onyx’s curiously retro cover design makes 24-year-old Joseph Moog look like a 1950s virtuoso, though no star of that era would have been given licence to twin Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with a much lesser-known Russian concerto composed four decades earlier. It’s a shrewd choice: both works begin in unassuming D minor, though Anton Rubinstein’s self-tailored solo writing is immediately off the leash, with the first movement parading music that’s titanic, elfin-scherzando, and Classically, rather than hyper-Romantically, lyric. The second has a simple candour which contrasts well with Rachmaninov’s saturated melancholy – though Rubinstein had little of his protégé Tchaikovsky’s melodic gift – and the finale romps with grand good humour, never too verbosely. Moog makes easy sense of it all, his light, glittering touch deftly partnered by Nicholas Milton and his Ludwigshafen-based orchestra. The only cause for pity – and it’s a big one – lies in the veiled sound for the piano and the muddy strings, surely not a fault of the artists but rather of the German radio recording.

That’s a liability in the Rachmaninov, too, though Moog’s fleet passage-work, emulating the composer’s own recording as pianist, is still clear enough; it comes as no surprise that he chooses the more mercurial of the two cadenza options, though he can pull out the big guns at the central climax of the Intermezzo. There are too many brilliantly-recorded, more coruscating alternatives around to squeeze this one in among the best, but Moog is a pianist of transcendental technique whose future should be well worth following.

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David Nice