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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)
Piano Concerto No 4 in G Minor. Op. 40 [27.46]
Paganini Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor. Op. 43 [25.13]
Four Piano pieces. Op. 1 [14.08]
Piotr Dimitriev (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Samuel Friedmann (conductor)
Recorded June 1998 Russian Broadcasting Studios, Moscow. DDD
ARTE NOVA 74321 72108 2 [67.46]
 Amazon UK 

Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto has never been a critical or a box-office success. It is seldom recorded and is not heard frequently on the concert platform - certainly not compared with others in the cycle. Its appearance on this new all-Rachmaninov release helps to show why. The composer is not to everyone's taste - he is sometimes found too extravagant, too opulent - but even detractors will concede that he can write a good tune - something that is noticeably missing from this work. The slow movement is the obvious place to look for such a thing but the Largo is sadly lacking in an attractive melody - the nearest we get is a deviant "Two lovely black eyes". It is essentially for those who enjoy bravura pianism with lots of splendid flourishes and lush orchestral support. The concerto's history tells of a composition that was felt to be over-long, subsequently much tinkered with and shortened to its present length. Its lineage is unmistakable - a few bars from almost anywhere in the first movement will confirm it - but it seems to drift with little sense of purpose and direction.

The jump to the marvellously varied and dynamic Paganini Rhapsody is entering another world. Here is Rachmaninov in inspired form with his 24 variations on the Paganini snippet. There are a number of splendid recordings of this work extant - a personal favourite is the Ashkenazy / Previn version on Decca (with two dual career performers I should point out that Ashkenazy is the soloist) and this latest version is a worthy addition to the field. Dmitriev is another of these young performers who seem to be appearing so regularly these days. Clearly he is gifted with a splendid technique and brings out the contrasts in the variations. This is a young man's performance, high-voltage,muscular and with tremendous attack when called for - the Dies Irae quotations making a chilling impact - while the radiant eighteenth variation showing the pianist's softer side with a delightful lightness of touch. The Russian Philharmonic (a recording unit, perhaps?) under Friedmann give splendidly vigorous support and the recording throughout is clear and well-balanced.

The Four Piano Pieces are student works from the composer's teens. Written for solo piano they are short, attractive pieces worth an occasional airing. The Third in particular (Andante) has a wistful appeal.

On a bargain label this disc is well worth investigating. The Variations in particular will almost certainly please.


Harry Downey.


Harry Downey.

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