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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-94)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70 (1864) [32'30]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1942)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934) [23'50]
Natasha Paremski (piano)
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Recorded in Moscow Radio Studio 5 in May 2002. [DDD]
BEL AIR MUSIC BAM2030 [56'20]


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This is an interesting coupling of two works by two virtuosi. A pity the playing time is low, however. Perhaps some of Rubinstein's solo piano works would have made interesting addenda?

Anton Rubinstein's Fourth Piano Concerto is by far the most popular of his five piano concertos. This is mid-to-late Romantic music in conception, fully in the virtuoso tradition and leaving no doubt that Rubinstein belonged to the 'B' list of composers of this period. Demanding to play it may well be; demanding to listen to it certainly is not. Paremski has all of the technique for the piece (no small achievement), although it does have to be admitted that there is more that a whiff of the Conservatoire about her playing. Nevertheless, she is capable of the big sound this music requires (as she proves in the first movement), and she can project melodies well. The second movement is the most successful, both musically and also in this particular performance. She draws a warm tone from her instrument and also demonstrates her power (especially in the sub-Lisztian passages). If she had been less stern in outlook in the finale and injected it with some extra sparkle, it would have been a greater success. Paremski comes across some formidable competition in the face of Shura Cherkassky's 1994 account (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Ashkenazy, Decca 448 063-2), whose delicacy and character overwhelm what she has to offer.

The 'Paganini Rhapsody' may well have been included to tempt the prospective purchaser, but it nevertheless enters a highly competitive field. Musically, it has to be admitted that while seventy years separate these two works, one might never guess it. There is no doubting Paremski's musicality, but it is all too easy here to listen to the orchestral part at her expense (the conductor successfully brings out the darker side of Rachmaninov's personality which lies within this score). Paremski can play spikily, but not with any real character, and stunning finger-work only holds the attention for a limited period. As if to prove this, listen to her routine and matter-of-fact handling of the very end of the piece and compare it with Ashkenazy's wit (with the LSO and Previn on Penguin 460 632-2, coupled with the Second Piano Concerto).

Ultimately disappointing, then, despite the promising programming.

Colin Clarke

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