Lebrecht Weekly – Rachmaninov: Piano concertos 2 and 3 (Sony Classical)

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Rachmaninov CD

It’s raining Rachmaninov concertos and I’m not sure the roof can take any more. The past couple of weeks have brought Vanessa Benelli Mosell on Decca, Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion and now the exuberant Khatia Buniatishvili on Sony. Benelli and Hamelin both play with London orchestras, neither sounding on peak form. Khatia is seriously challenged by the Czech Philharmonic, who are in terrific shape under Paavo Järvi’s baton.

Benelli’s pairing for the C minor concerto is the Corelli Variations, which she does rather well. Hamelin matches the D minor concerto with Nikolai Medtner’s long-neglected second concerto, a curiosity that falls far short of top billing.

Buniatishvili sticks to the tried and tested, playing Rachmaninov’s two popular concertos back to back. She has an arresting, languid opening for C minor concerto and sets off several times on dazzling runs without ever leaving the listener in full confidence that she knows where she going. The flute solo in the Adagio merits five stars. Why do record labels always credit the executive producer and never the orchestra soloists?

In the D minor concerto the conductor sets a stiffer pace, encouraging the pianist to break a few personal records. She’s formidably precise and generally appealing. What I miss on record is the intoxicating physicality of her stage persona; it just doesn’t come through. She makes the finale sound like a morning workout. These are brilliant contemporary performances, commendable in every way, yet – after three hearings – curiously unmemorable (I suppose the label will quote just the first nine words of this last sentence).

—Norman Lebrecht

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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