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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [43:40]
Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 (1931) [18:11]
Boris Giltburg (Piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Carlos Miguel Prieto
rec. 2016, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS 8.573630 [61:59]

An interesting offering from Naxos. The Rachmaninov Third opens up with a relaxed tempo and restrained manner for the first minute or so, but as the piano writing becomes more challenging and the lyricism less flowing, Giltburg pushes ahead a bit and the performance becomes more fiery and spirited. This same pattern holds true when the lush alternate theme is presented, the soloist and conductor focusing more on the ravishing beauties of the music than on infusing it with heated emotion or heartfelt passion. There’s plenty of energy and drive in the development section and in the bigger ossia cadenza that Giltburg chooses. That, by the way, is the more common choice of pianists today and is the original one written by the composer.

The second movement is beautifully played by both the soloist and orchestra, tempos being slightly on the slower side, with more detail evident than in most performances. Giltburg plays with a rich and often hefty tone here, and his phrasing is consistently sensitive to the spirit of this highly individual Intermezzo. This is one of the best accounts of this movement I’ve ever heard. Giltburg points up lots of detail as well in the Finale, especially in his initial renderings of the main theme. Tempos are moderate to somewhat on the expansive side throughout, not much different from those in Cliburn’s famous Carnegie Hall account. The first part of the middle section is appropriately playful while in the latter half Giltburg gently brings out the nostalgia and yearning in the return of the first movement themes. The suspenseful build-up that leads to the climactic big theme is brilliantly played by Giltburg and the theme itself soars beautifully to the heavens in this performance. There are many fine versions of this concerto: the aforementioned Cliburn/Kondrashin (RCA), Janis/Dorati (Mercury), Mogilevsky/Kondrashin (Melodiya) and more recently, Glemser/Wit (Naxos) and Lisitsa/Francis (Decca). This new one by Giltburg is certainly one of the finest Rachmaninov Thirds of the 21st century and perhaps among the best ever. Only the first movement may provoke some controversy, but that said, it’s still quite convincing in its sense of contrast and in its plentiful detail. Conductor Prieto draws a fine performance from the Scottish players and Naxos delivers excellent sound reproduction.

I haven’t been a great fan of the Corelli Variations in the past. For one thing, there are several passages that come close to making you hear them as recycled or warmed-over Rachmaninov. But this ear-opening account by Boris Giltburg is persuasive enough to move doubters a lot closer to embracing the work as a bona fide masterpiece. His dynamics are well judged and subtly applied, tempos are quite judicious even if they are on the brisk side, and phrasing in general is imaginative and never wayward in the least. Giltburg makes the music sound vital, alive and more colorful than in many other accounts of the work. This performance ends up being more than just a nice filler for the concerto, then: it is revelatory, not only because it persuaded me to take another look at what turns out to be a very deserving work, but because it also demonstrates that Giltburg is a major talent on the concert scene today. Again, the sound reproduction by Naxos is very good. Strongly recommended - Giltburg’s growing fanbase should love this recording.

Robert Cummings


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