> RACHMANINOV Concertos 2, 3 Bronfman SBK89734 [PL]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18 (1900) [34.03]
Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30 (1909) [43.09]
Yefim Bronfman (piano) & The Philharmonia, cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen
recorded 5-8 October 1990 in Abbey Road Studios, Studio 1, London: DDD
SONY SBK89734 [77.12]


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Until recently, the all-time favourite Brief Encounter Concerto used most often to be coupled with the Paganini Rhapsody, or the shorter First or Fourth Concertos, giving you about an hour’s worth of music. The slightly longer Third, on the other hand, often took up a whole CD. Nowadays, since Shine brought it to a wider public attention, the Third Concerto has been approaching the Second in popularity – and rightly so! – and so this generous coupling of Nos 2 and 3 is the obvious one to market. It makes for an interesting (if emotionally exhausting) programme, and offers unbeatable value, especially (as here) at superbudget price.

I don’t recall hearing (or even coming across) these performances before, but they most certainly compare with the best available. Bronfman is a superb player. I first came across him as a sensitive and supportive accompanist – a role which high-profile concert soloists don’t always fulfil effectively – to Shlomo Mintz in the Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy and Franck Violin Sonatas. More recently, I’ve been enjoying his new disc of Rachmaninov two-piano music, in which he is partnered by Emanuel Ax: wonderful music-making from two musicians who not only work well together as a team, but also exude individuality and personality.

The same is true here: Bronfman and Salonen are clearly at one in their collaboration, and yet each obviously feels free to allow his musical personality to boil over into the foreground, and so offer us all manner of distinctive and memorable moments.

Bronfman’s playing is muscular and weighty: his fingerwork has a percussive clarity and, even when confronted with handfuls of notes (as in the ossia cadenza of No 3’s first movement), his power and confidence seem never to diminish. And yet there are times when everything quietens and relaxes unpredictably, in a way which seems out of keeping with the scale of his playing elsewhere: shortly after the recapitulated ‘big’ theme in No 2’s first movement, at 7' 31", Bronfman suddenly holds right back, momentarily singing sotto voce over the Philharmonia’s silky strings – uncalled for, you might argue, but the effect is undoubtedly beguiling!

It is true that Salonen and his orchestra don’t have nearly so important a role in the proceedings as they do in (say) the Brahms Concertos. But, even so, these are no mere accompaniments. One of the most enjoyable aspects of these performances is the way Salonen brings out lines in the harmony which the orchestra (far more than the piano) are able to sustain and carry forward: this does wonders for creating momentum and excitement. And, time and time again, individual voices within the ensemble contribute moments of real beauty: the violins’ playing at the end of No 2’s slow movement, for example, is nothing less than divine!

Any misgivings? Not really. You may feel that Bronfman tends to press on unrelentingly, and that he might relax more. And you may find the recording a little brittle, rather than warm. But you might be too swept along even to notice!

So, one hell of a disc: the pleasure-per-penny factor, were we able to calculate such a thing, is definitely towards the top of the scale.

Peter J Lawson

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