Too often one has to complain about pianists
who are speed-merchants; here, perhaps the opposite applies.
The remarkable thing about this recording of the Paganini Variations
is that it takes just over 25 minutes as opposed to the usual
21 or so – a big difference in a piece of this length. I say
‘perhaps’, for some listeners may warm to the deliberate tempi
which Zeltser consistently opts for: they certainly allow every
one of Rachmaninov’s numerous felicitous orchestral details
to make their mark (as is not always the case). As against that,
the faster variations lose something of their forward momentum
(sample 1) while the slower variations are a touch languid
(sample 2). But there’s a splendid eighteenth variation and
the final dash for home is just as it should be.
Beautifully played and accompanied in a well-balanced
(the piano mercifully not too forward) and spacious recording
(as is that of the Prokofiev which follows).
The same deliberate approach to tempi also
characterises Zeltser’s interpretation of the Prokofiev, though
at 30 minutes – as opposed to the standard 27 minutes – the
differential is here rather less noticeable. And here and there
he does allow himself a little rush of blood. Occasionally the
result of this steady-as-she-goes approach is stolid; on the
other hand it pays off elsewhere, as in the second movement’s
‘misterioso’. Overall Zeltser’s robust approach to the finale
is spot-on, and you couldn’t wish for a riper account of its
‘big tune’ and its reflective interludes. And he brings great
panache to that wonderful hurtling coda.
Leaving questions of tempi aside, the most
striking thing about this disc is Zeltser’s wonderfully clean
and crisply articulated piano-playing, and this is the disc’s
strongest recommendation. In addition, Barshai and his forces
provide excellent and sympathetic accompaniments.