> Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 2 Kapell []: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Piano Concerto No 2
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Prelude in C sharp minor Op 3 No 2
William Kapell, piano
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
William Steinberg (Concerto)
Fritz Reiner (Rhapsody)
Recorded 1945 Ė1951
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110692 [57í20]


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Not all Kapellís Concerto performances are entirely unproblematic but these are amongst the very greatest of them. The Concerto dates from 1950, the Rhapsody from almost a year later; the former with the loyal and affectionate accompaniment of William Steinberg, the latter boasting the gimlet-eyed and shatteringly good Fritz Reiner. Itís true that Kapell was a virtuoso in the modern manner but his Concerto performance is neither steely nor remotely over sentimentalised. Taking Horowitz as his pianistic model and elevating clarity and precision brought its own considerable rewards. There are numerous examples of Kapellís balancing of technique and intimacy. His gradients from piano to forte are properly weighted and he gives considerable value to the rhythmic impulses of the first movement of the concerto. He also ensures that his fabled clarity is accompanied by audibility in his passagework. His left hand brings out often-submerged detail but never incongruously or irrelevantly. In the slow movement he employs some sharp accents at an unexceptional tempo. He is sometimes cool, not cold and in the finale there is no trace of brashness or vulgarity whatsoever. This is playing remarkably respectful of its pianistic antecedents.

In the Rhapsody he has the distinct advantage of Reinerís conducting of the Philadelphia Orchestra Ė called the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra for contractual reasons and accompanists in the Concerto as well. There are some glittering orchestral colours here: chattering woodwind, Kapellís skittering runs; in Variation 7 Reiner moulds the rise and fall of the bassís counter-theme with tremendous control and with meltingly affecting violins at the close. Kapell is crystalline in Variation 10 and in Variation 12 Reiner encourages beautifully entwining clarinet figures and horn playing - a perfect example of Reinerís sensitivity and sagacity in matters of orchestral balance and momentum. Or listen to Variation 22 with its string playing of the highest beauty of tone at quite a fast tempo. The transition from Variations 27 to 28 is effervescent, witty, sharp-edged, and precise. Whilst Naxos makes much of Kapellís "blistering intensity and electricity" what emerges from the grooves of these recordings is rather his balanced virtuosity and a musicality that never sacrificed sensitivity to sentimentality, bravura to bombast. Whilst I wouldnít necessarily prefer these recordings to the classic Moiseiwitsch they are nevertheless memorable and necessary additions to the catalogue.

Jonathan Woolf


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