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Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (1900-01) [34.34]
Moments Musicaux, Op. 16 (1896) [30.21]
Dejan Lazić (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Petrenko
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, England, May 2008 (op. 18); Muziekcentrum Frits Philips, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, May 2008 (op. 16), SACD
Booklet notes and artists’ biographies in English, German and French
Experience Classicsonline

The Piano Concerto No. 2 was composed after the deep depression that followed the failure of the First Symphony. According to historical sources, Rachmaninov was not appreciated in St. Petersburg, where the symphony was premiered in 1897. He had been expelled in 1885 from the local conservatory and had then completed his studies in Moscow. The premiere of the First Symphony was conducted by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) who reportedly was drunk and trashed the work. The critics relished the opportunity and completely destroyed the composer and the composition. Rachmaninov believed that he was unfit for composition and began drinking immoderately while attempting other career paths, namely as a concert pianist and a conductor. By the end of 1899 he was an alcoholic, whose hands shook heavily, stopping him from playing the piano. From January to April 1900, Rachmaninov had then the good sense of visiting daily a Dr Dahl, a Moscow specialist in “neuro-psychotherapy” or, in other words, hypnosis and was urged during these sessions to compose a new piano concerto that had been commissioned by a London impresario. The trance therapy brought Rachmaninov back from the dead and shook him out of his lethargy. He composed with great ease this new and wonderful piano concerto: The No. 2 in C minor, which he dedicated to Dr Dahl, as a token of his gratitude for the therapy. Rachmaninov was never again impaired by depression in spite of some bad turns of fortune in his life.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 is formed of three movements and is classic in its structure. It is also possibly the best known and most widely recorded of Rachmaninov’s piano pieces, perhaps with the exception of his Variations on a Theme by Paganini. One may be forgiven for wondering why it might be necessary to record it again but this is the kind of situation that continuously happens with popular pieces. It is always an enriching experience to listen to a new interpretation. This performance was recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in May 2008 and although the various reviews, which I read at the time, were complimentary of the pianist, several complained that he could not be heard during the parts of the first and last movements when the orchestra joins in. I was therefore eager to listen to it and judge for myself.
Dejan Lazić is a fine pianist but I am sorry to have to say that his performance failed to impress me. Although the piano is heard in this recording much clearer than it must have been live, one still gets the impression that it is not completely there. The opening chords of the first movement, Moderato; Allegro, are perfectly played, leading the way for the powerful entrance of the orchestra. After that the piano fades into the background, almost as if the pianist was hitting the keys with a surprising lack of strength. This concerto and particularly, the first movement are dominated by a dark, expressive mood that requires a pianist that understands the emotions within the composer’s mind and narrates the story contained in the music with passion and drama. Personally, I think that Lazić’s playing lacks these qualities; he is too soft and that is why when the orchestra is present, he no longer takes centre-stage. This situation is completely reversed when we get to the second movement, Adagio sostenuto. Here, Lazić is definitely in his element and he excels. His interpretation is beautifully evocative, almost poetic and he approaches the instrument in a sensitive manner; his playing is very delicate, nearly feminine in style. It is a wonderful rendition of the second movement and one that I found myself playing over and over again. However, once one gets to the third and final movement, Allegro scherzando, the piano does not disappear as such but one forgets that it is actually there. This is a piano concerto and not an orchestral piece as such. Therefore, hearing mostly the orchestra and hardly noticing the pianist is obviously not the objective. There were moments, during the third movement where Lazić appeared hesitant, as if his fingers lacked the dexterity or the strength to play. The London Philharmonic, on the other hand, under the excellent leadership of Kirill Petrenko, gives a magnificent performance. The orchestra is in perfect tune with the conductor and dramatically very expressive, in particular during the darker C minor mood of the first movement and the glorious contrasting C major of the final one. Petrenko is undoubtedly a fabulous conductor: passionate, insightful and inspiring. I can hardly wait to watch him live.
The second work, Moments Musicaux, is an earlier piece that Rachmaninov composed in 1896, before his breakdown. It is a set of six precious little gems for solo piano, imposing and difficult, but that complement each other harmoniously, which renders them perfect for a complete performance. With his interpretation of these pieces, my confidence and belief in Lazić’s attributes as a pianist were fully restored. He really comes into his own without the orchestra’s presence and this demonstrates why he is such a fabulous chamber musician. His performance is engaging and virtuosic, beautifully expressive and emotional but he does not allow himself to indulge in romantic sentiment. His rendition remains sober yet deeply felt, moving and personal. His playing is precise and his technique impeccable and pure. A real treat and a joy to listen to.
The sound quality of the recording is, like with all hybrid CDs, excellent however one listens to it, however it is really superior when played on the appropriate SACD equipment. The sound is crystal clear; every note is noticed, every little nuance is present and does not disappear. I derive great pleasure from this brilliance of sound and in some instances, as with the best orchestral parts, I found myself with my eyes closed, thinking I was in a real concert hall.
Dejan Lazić’s interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is perhaps a little disappointing and definitely not one of the best I have ever heard, however his is a solid performance, with a wonderfully played second movement. If you are not bothered that the piano fades during the orchestra’s passages, then stick to it because you are in for a treat when you get to the interpretation of Moments Musicaux.
Margarida Mota-Bull


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