Rachmaninov piano concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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In 2004, Leif Ove Andsnes won a Gramophone Award for his coupling of piano concertos by Grieg and Schumann with the Berlin Philharmonic.Unfortunately, for all the anticipation surrounding this release, the result is a disappointment. The impulsiveness of his earlier live Rachmaninov recording has been lost in the frigid studio environment in the First Concerto, while even the live Second Concerto fails to produce the same spark, further hindered by misbalanced sonics.In the First Concerto, the first movement’s opening fanfare is taken at a rousing tempo which Andsnes fails to meet, giving a flaccid reading of the opening solo. The relief of the movement’s tension in the gigantic cadenza is frustrated by Andsnes’ emotional restraint. After a routine Andante, the final movement is much as the first: virtuosic and note-perfect but emotionally uninspiring. The infamous opening chords of the Second Concerto are judiciously executed with fine tone. When the orchestra enters, Andsnes subsides into an accompanying role, as the soloist in this concerto frequently must. Regrettably, he doesn’t emerge for the rest of the concerto. The second movement is probably the finest performance here. The extra orchestral volume aids the music, and Andsnes’ style fits the music perfectly. The quasi-glissando run at the opening of the final movement is then delivered in a rather asthenic fashion, setting the tone for the rest of the movement. Even at the majestic climax of the movement, the piano becomes lost within the orchestra, leading to a disappointing close.This release is an unfortunate combination of two rather ‘off’ performances by Andsnes. As his earlier releases have shown he has quite phenomenal pianistic technique and insight. However, neither of these is obvious on this disappointing disc.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005

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