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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor Op.1 (1892 rev. 1917) [28:09]
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 (1934) [23:18]
Sequeira Costa (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Seaman
rec. 1991/94
CLAUDIO CB6026-2 [51:31]

Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.1 is one of the best opus ones in the business. It may lack the maturity of his later works but it has a drive and vigour all of its own. In the first movement there is also a winning theme that has that air of romantic yearning so closely associated with and typical of the composer. That theme is played here in a slightly stilted fashion by Costa but overall this is a version that crackles with life. The level of virtuosity from the soloist is staggering and Seaman offers superb orchestral support. It's a really exciting performance full of adrenalin and swagger. Other versions may have more romance and poetry to the playing but this one grabs the listener by the throat and in its own way it's rather good.

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini coupling presented here gains enormously by not being too rhapsodic. The music keeps moving forward and never sounds wayward or bogged down. The level of technical prowess is notable and the most difficult passages sound effortless. The famous 18th variation never fails and it comes off very well here with especially thrilling horns albeit a thin string sound in the top register. This variation is followed by a headlong sprint to the finishing post that leaves the listener breathless. It's highly charged stuff.

This is music-making that puts sparkle and clarity high on its agenda and the recording suits it perfectly. The orchestra is in fine form and they sound very committed and enthusiastic. The early 1990s digital sound is close, clear and bright. Those who are looking for a lush romantic wash should maybe steer clear of this. Others who prefer impact and presence and like to hear all the inner details in digital clarity will be highly impressed. It does sound thrilling.

The original CD issue of the First Piano Concerto was reviewed here by Ian Lace.

The CD sleeve is called Volume 1. All the reissues of Costa's complete cycle of the Rachmaninov piano concertos - first issued on the RPO label - are obviously on their way. This first CD is well worth hearing.

John Whitmore


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