Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor (1909) [42:58]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor (1925-6) [24:55]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
rec. 7-10 March 2009 (No. 3); 30 April-1 May (No. 4), No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS 6 40516 2 [67:14]

Andsnes joins a distinguished band of pianists who have so successfully scaled the virtuosic heights of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. This most demanding of piano concertos has been tackled, most memorably, by Horowitz and Argerich. Andsnes, it will be remembered also put on disc a very well received album of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos 1 and 2 (EMI 474813-2).

Again the partnership of Andsnes and Pappano delivers a beautifully-judged, nicely-balanced reading of heroic power and beauty. Andsnes’s fleet and tigerish playing dazzles. There are so many little delights, so many cherishable nuances in this reading. In the opening movement he chooses to play Rachmaninov’s alternative cadenza to that recorded by the composer himself. This long-spanning construct is the more symphonic of the two and has tremendous might. The Intermezzo-Adagio central movement is delivered with a sensitivity that is touching but not cloying, nostalgically sentimental without being mawkish. But it is that monumental finale with those magnificent spell-binding closing pages that is simply awesome - to use an overworked phrase. This after Andsnes and Pappano have so adroitly built up the tension through the movement.

Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto, premiered in 1927 met with an unenthusiastic critical response. One critic was unkind enough to suggest that, ‘it could have been ‘perpetrated by Chaminade after her third glass of vodka’. The audience was somewhat kinder. Nevertheless, rewrites and cuts followed and a wholesale revision in 1941. As Julian Haylock sagely observes, ‘The result is an important transitional work that made possible the dramatic concision and clarity of the Third Symphony and the Symphonic Dances’. Andsnes and Pappano go all out for sweet romanticism and unrestrained drama in the opening movement. Their reading of the slow movement with its hint of jazzy blues and that odd quirky reference to ‘Three Blind Mice’, has an equally sweet melancholy and a bleak intensity. The quirkiness of the Allegro vivace finale is thrown off with aplomb; it dances and races away vivaciously, pausing only for some doubt and introspection.

I noticed that the man behind this recording was John Fraser, EMI Classic’s chief producer who has been associated with so many successful EMI Late Romantic music recordings including numerous Rachmaninov albums. His sound here is exemplary: well balanced and detailed.

Another winning Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3.

Ian Lace

Another winning Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3.