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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor Op.18 [34:17]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor Op.40 [26:04]
Sequeira Costa (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Seaman
rec. 1993
CLAUDIO CB6027-2 [60:23]

This is Volume 2 of Sequeira Costa’s early 1990s Rachmaninov cycle, currently being reissued on Claudio. Volume 1 (Piano Concerto No.1 and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - review) was certainly well worth hearing and had much to commend it. This latest offering has similar traits. The music-making is full of sparkle with fine articulation and clarity. The recording is bright, forward and exciting but doesn’t have a deep, romantic string-laden quality. There’s nothing lush to be heard here and the dry sound could put potential purchasers off. One huge plus point in its favour is that the recording has tremendous presence and you can hear every note.

The Second Concerto opens rather ponderously and some of the playing tends to be heavy-handed. The opening theme, on its return, is pulled back and sounds unnatural. The slow movement is over-romanticised and has a tendency to drag despite the beautiful playing from the soloist. The finale is presented somewhat cautiously at the beginning but certainly catches fire in the closing pages. The orchestra plays well throughout but Mr Costa - a very distinguished pianist - isn’t quite at the top of his form. There are also some lapses of ensemble along the way that can irritate on repetition. Maybe more rehearsal time would have helped. In a crowded, competitive field, this isn’t a top recommendation.

The Fourth Concerto is one of Rachmaninov’s near misses and has never captured the public’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t contain the memorable tunes to be heard in the second concerto and doesn’t have the hair-raising virtuosity of the Third. The banal melody in the central largo doesn’t help. It’s too close to Two Lovely Black Eyes for comfort. Rachmaninov was a tunesmith of the highest order but his gift just deserted him on this occasion. The work is full of glitter and bravura but the material too often wanders around and it lacks cohesion. It’s like a Rachmaninov pastiche full of gestures but without - I hasten to add - the tunes. Having done a hatchet job on the concerto it has to be conceded that Mr Costa does it proud. His virtuoso playing makes light of some very demanding passages, especially the frantic last movement. The closing pages are thrilling. The orchestra and Christopher Seaman offer fine support with none of the ensemble issues that can be heard in the second concerto.

In summary we have a good version of the fourth concerto on this CD but this is outweighed by a second concerto that can be bettered elsewhere. The recording is analytical and highly technicolor at the expense of warmth. This is something of a disappointment having enjoyed Volume 1.
John Whitmore



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