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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
(1901) [32:15]
(I: Moderato [10.04]; II: Adagio sostenuto [10.52]; III Allegro scherzando [11.19])
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43 (1934) [22.25]
(Introduction — Variation I — Theme — Variations 2-24)
Jorge Lois Prats (piano)
Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Bátiz
Recorded Mexico City, 1990



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Here is a re-release of a fifteen year old recording that caused something of a stir when it first came out. The publicity quotes various reviews from the time containing words like “stunning”. This is an appropriate metaphor, for if any living organism got between Jorge Luis Prats and his keyboard it would certainly end up stunned. The Cuban pianist is a hard hitter. The result is a rendering of the Second Concerto of exceptional power and energy.

What makes this performance particularly successful is that conductor Bátiz and his orchestra are 100% on board with the interpretation. The orchestra matches the pianist in panache and, when it comes to slow, romantic passages, which are usually played with a degree of mannered rubato, pianist and orchestra are as one. The string tone is thinner than that of orchestras on many other recordings, but maybe that is no bad thing, for a lush tone would only emphasise romantic indulgence.

To what extent you might be able to live with this CD as your only recording of these works is a matter of taste. Some may find the romantic parts just too much of a good thing. A good example is in the most famous of the Paganini Variations. This really is pulled about in a manner bordering on sentimentality but it is done with conviction. Perhaps more on the down-side is that the serious, contemplative side of the music is not brought out so well. There is a dark side to the Rachmaninov personality that is present even in these relatively extrovert works. After all, the composer was only just recovering from a nervous break-down when he wrote the Second Concerto.

For performances of great range that combine passion with integrity and sensitivity, Stephen Hough’s recording, released last year on Hyperion (together with the other three concertos), is hard to beat.

My verdict would be that for those who would like a steady, balanced approach these full-frontal performances may be just a bit too much. But it you have another recording to satisfy that condition, this one is worth having on the shelf for a quick fix now and again.

It has the advantage of being a good bargain and the recorded sound is excellent, adding to the power of the performances.

John Leeman



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