Amid the excitement over a rediscovered rehearsal tape of the composer playing Symphonic Dances, there arrives a new account of two concertos with Rachmaninov’s favourite orchestra and the living pianist who most resembles him. Deutsche Grammophon has titled the album Destination Rachmaninov. Departure and furnished the cover with a portrait of the soloist, Daniil Trifonov, sitting in the kind of railway compartment that went out with shellac records. Do not be distracted by these marketing tricks.
Trifonov opens with C minor concerto with quiet authority, each chord darker than the one before, Rachmaninov at his most morose. If this concerto had a physical colour it would be brown, streaked with alabaster flashes of erotic fantasy. Trifonov paints brown deeper than any pianist of the present generation, or the last. He inhabits Rachmaninov’s peculiar mindset, rooted in Russia yet drawn to the West, deeply pessimistic yet abnormally energetic, introspective yet showman-like. The finale of the second concerto comes as close to the source as any recording I know.
The fourth concerto, always problematic, is propelled at speed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and played by the Philadelphia Orchestra with something of the burnish that so captivated the composer. The Three Blind Mice central movement, often made to sound simplistic, acquires an edge of menace. The finale is pure helter-skelter. Between the two concertos, Trifonov plays Bach transcriptions, just as Rachmaninov might have done. This recording stands with the greats.