An interesting mixture of styles make this a particularly attractive
programme. What they have in common is that fundamentally the three works
are all piano concertos and, as one might expect, all place great demands
on the technique and personality of the pianist. Alexei Lubimov emerges
from the challenge with great credit; but on reflection, would he have
taken it on in the first place if he was not worthy to do so?
Rachmaninov's Fourth Concerto is the most conventional
of these pieces, for the simple reason that it is the only one which
uses the normal concerto combination of piano and orchestra. The music
does not have quite the compelling sweep of the celebrated Second and
Third Concertos, and Rachmaninov himself was aware of that, since he
spent the better part of ten years working on it and refining it. But
Lubimov and Saraste have the work's measure, and their control of the
larger scale issues of construction and direction is exemplary. The
recorded sound is good though not outstanding, and there are competitors
(notably Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca) who benefit from a wider and richer
I particularly enjoyed Lubimov's sensitivity to phrase
shaping, which allows the heroic sweeping gestures of the first movement
to make their impression without becoming unduly indulgent. The more
intimate moments in the slow movement also avoid sounding too much like
a parody of 'Three Blind Mice' (always a tricky problem with this piece).
In all, then, this can be rated a successful interpretation.
The sour chords which open Stravinsky's Concerto reveal
a composer who was creating a very different kind of music at precisely
the same time as Rachmaninov was composing his grand and romantic Fourth
Concerto. Therefore the priorities of the performance have to be very
different, and it is surely more than a matter of just playing the notes.
Once the lively tempo gets under way there are occasion when just a
little more attack would have brought that touch of incisiveness that
makes all the difference in this music. The strengths of the performance
lie more in the subtleties of shading and instrumental balances than
they do in terms of physical excitement. Again the recording is accurate
without having enormous impact.
Scriabin's Prometheus is one of the composer's
most grandiose and ambitious projects. He conceived the idea as a gigantic
experience ending with a massive tutti chord and a colour light show
which resolved to a blinding white light. The composer regarded himself
as a mystic visionary, who would reveal new truths to those who followed
him (he was a kind of musical Rasputin). His initial idea was that this
experience should take place in India; but after a visit to London,
he thought that an alternative option might be the Royal Albert Hall.
So to hear the music on CD is several degrees removed
from Scriabin's vision. The music clearly requires a big, richly sonorous
sound, which it does not quite have in this recording. Perhaps it is
for that reason that the performance feels somewhat earthbound, even
after the chorus enters. The best approach is to turn up the volume
and indulge, but to really believe in this piece you need a lively imagination.
As in the Rachmaninov concerto, Ashkenazy's Decca performance of the
Scriabin is just a little more vivid.