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Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op.1 (1890-91, rev. 1917) [25:38]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18 (1900-01) [32:43]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, 3-4 June 2005 (No.2, live) and 5 June 2005 (No.1)
EMI CLASSICS 5181842 [58:30]
Experience Classicsonline

It seems like no time at all since this was first released. And given that this brace of concertos was recorded back in June 2005 that’s in fact the case. It reappears in a series emblazoned with ‘Gramophone’ and ‘The Penguin Guide’ recommendations, and at a lower price bracket, now that the first flush of youth has flown.

I heard the Second at the time of its first release and was as much impressed by Pappano’s handling of the Berlin Philharmonic in repertoire I don’t associate with him as I was by Andsnes’s unfussy, straightforward and yet expressive playing. The feeling still persists. The Second was recorded live – I assume some patching was also undertaken, or splicing between the two dates noted in the booklet, the 3rd and 4th of June. The balance was finely judged and the Berlin’s bass-up sonority well captured, though not unduly spotlit. The violas are particularly plangent and their blending with their collegiate string choir colleagues is fastidiously maintained but never sounds either manicured or predictable. Pappano in fact encourages some richly verdant string tone. In short the orchestra sounds as fine was one would expect. Andsnes and Pappano choose good, sensible tempi for all three movements and they bring a real sense of dynamism and verve to the finale. It’s singularly committed playing all round.

The First Concerto was recorded in the Philharmonie as well, but without an audience. However there’s no great diminution of drama and incisive interplay. In fact the rapport between orchestra, conductor and soloist is just as vital as in the more popular concerto. It is though just a touch less intense – the lessening is slight but noticeable not least in the peroration of the first movement where perhaps a live performance would have given greater vehemence to the characterisation of the music making.

Still, this is carping. With another warmly textured slow movement to enjoy and finger perfect pianism the First nestles in nicely next to the fiery Second. Given similar virtues in the recording booth and in the light of such powerfully shaped readings – allied to which is the tempting price reduction – this is a rewarding and enticing disc.

Jonathan Woolf 


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