Warner Classics / 2005
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 1 & 2
Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
1. I. Vivace
2. II. Andante
3. III. Allegro vivace
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
4. I. Moderato
5. II. Adagio sostenuto
6. III. Allegro scherzando
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Andsnes studiously avoids barnstorming on the one hand or prissiness on the other: his is an intelligent, alert and at times austere middle road, with lightning reflexes in the First and more reserved touch in the Second
Leif Ove Andsnes and Antonio Pappano deliver full bodied and intelligently detailed readings of Rachmaninov…Andsnes and Pappano undoubtedly are world-class contenders in a crowded market, and I hope they plan further recorded collaborations
With no shortage of fine versions of this pairing from which to choose, EMI must rely on the undoubted selling power of its Norwegian star to make this release stand out from the rest. It is certainly a worthy contender for the Top Ten when aided by the world-class Berlin Phil, a conductor who is in the Barbirolli class of adroit accompanists, superb recorded sound and a beautifully voiced piano.
With judicious tempi (though, as is now customary, slightly slower than the composer’s) and a well-nigh ideal balance between piano and orchestra, instrumental detail is tellingly observed, such as the bassoon and clarinet counterpoint at the beginning of the second movement of the First Concerto and the triangle in its finale, both well integrated into the sound picture, even if there is a hint of the engineer’s hand.
Nor is there anything mannered about the soloist, though some may wish he was slightly less well mannered. Andsnes here gives the lie to those who find his playing on the cool side of emotional but he is always the reliable guest who never gets drunk, no matter how much alcohol he has consumed.
The fiery section of the cadenza to the First Concerto, for example, runs out of steam in the final bars to which Byron Janis, for instance, brings a despairing vehemence.
The Second Concerto (live, as opposed to the studio First, but without any appreciable difference in acoustic and balance) is, similarly, given a Rolls-Royce reading with which only the pickiest could find fault. The last movement, though, is something special and the final appearance of its glorious second subject, greeted with a mighty timpani wallop and braying brass, is heart-stopping. The audience rightly roar their approval.