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Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, & No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Simon Trpceski (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool (8 & 9 April and 1 August 2009) – 75’48
AV2192 – Booklet in English, French, German

Recording Rachmaninov’s piano concertos is challenging to every pianist not just because of its immense technical demands, but also because it is difficult to gain a foothold among the abundance of supreme interpretations available in the market, ranging from the composer himself, through Horowitz and Rubinstein, to Argerich and Pletnev. Two youthful musicians, the 31-year-old Trpceski and conductor Petrenko who is three years older, display in this disc their artistic maturity both musically and technically.

Mr. Trpceski’s crystalline touch and buoyant pianistic tone are innately attuned to Rachmaninov’s piano music – the filigree passage at the end of the Second Concerto are rendered with visceral excitement; the shimmering waltz episode at the middle of the second movement of the Third Concerto is also imbued with heady exuberance and tiptoe delicacy. On the contrary, he showed limited interest in searching a singing tone from his instrument, leaving the music’s cantabile melodies rather plainspoken. In the tuneful second movement of the Second Concerto, for instance, the arching melodic lines when the piano solo playing the main theme are upstaged by his dreamy panache when accompanying the woodwinds.

Mr. Trpceski’s infallible virtuosity made the passageworks, even the cadenza of the Third, sound almost too aplomb. He tears through the double-octave outbursts with arm-blurring speed and scurrying runs at whirlwind pace with squeaky cleanness. But for ears attuned to Argerich’s heavily pounding octaves or Horowitz’s impulsive ebullience, Mr. Trpceski’s playing sounds too light-hearted and elegant, lacking Rachmaninov’s trademark Russian solemnity and hot-bloodedness. This is supported intimately by the orchestra’s snobbish rendition, the typical temperament of an English gentleman. This version of the Third Concerto are amongst few recordings that exceed 42 minutes – Rachmaninov’s own and Horowitz’s (1930) recordings are both in 34 minutes, Gieseking (1940) in 33 minutes, and Argerich (1982) in 40 minutes. Nonetheless, this sluggish tempo gives room for every phrase to be exquisitely polished, especially by the suave strings.

The recorded sound captures the stereo acoustics unflaggingly. With a fine Hi-Fi, the positions and distances of each parts of the orchestra could be limpidly discernible. The cellos at the ‘right’ side and the violins at the ‘left’ personify their dialogues with eloquence and pliancy. This makes the contrapuntal passage in the final movement of the Second Concerto particularly fascinating. In the second movement of the Third, the orchestra brings to the surface some rarely heard inner voices too. But it is this limpid texture that somehow sacrifices a unified orchestral tone, the paramount quality of a first-class orchestra.

The CD booklet, in three languages, insightfully contains the biographies of the composer, the artists and the orchestra, as well as the backgrounds of the two musical works. Among a copious discography of these pieces, this disc would hardly rise to the top of my recommendations. However, with the technical and musical ripeness of these two youthful artists, their future releases certainly deserve our attention.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui




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