Rachmaninoff. Piano Concerto Nos 2 & 3
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor
Rachmaninov scored his piano concertos with perfect balance between piano and orchestra so that, if on the one hand the solo performer can show off his/her virtuosity, the orchestra plays a major role in the concertos too. This balance is what characterizes the performance of the two piano concertos recorded in this album by Kathia Buniatishvili and Paavo Järvi.
Rachmaninov’s piano concertos nos. 2 and 3 are two extremely different works although they have been composed in less than a decade, the first between 1900 and 1901 and the second in 1909. The Second concerto shows that it was written after Rachmaninov recovered from a period of depression, a disease he suffered after the failure of the First Symphony in 1897, and it is a tense, sometimes painful work steeped in nostalgia. The Third concerto, on the contrary, was composed in the quietness of the family estate of Ivanovska in view of the American tour which took place in the same year of the composition and is more varied in inspiration, besides being one of the most demanding works for piano of the entire repertoire. This is the reason why the dedicatee, Josef Hofmann, never publicly performed it and it was only in the Thirties that Vladimir Horowitz established it as one of the most popular piano works.
The intensity of emotions (or rather, of a single emotion) of the Second piano concerto is wonderfully rendered by Buniatishvili and Järvi: the sound of the piano that gets nearer little by little and not without something disturbing in it in the first movement, its timid entry in the second, the crystalline sound with which nostalgia is characterized in the same second movement, in a way that seems to conceal regret when the flowing of the piano reminds of the flow of tears, and the unrestrained passion with which the orchestra echoes the same feeling are only some features of this stunning concerto, which find its combination and synthesis in the last movement with a strong and breath-taking finale.
The Third concerto seem a little less thrilling at first, but only because the overwhelming finale of the previous concerto still fills your ears when it begins in its less impressive way – but then Buniatishvili’s resoluteness strikes you and captures again your attention. She performs her part without any apparent effort and the liquid sound of her instrument is incomparable in the end of the first movement. The same can be said of her decided entry after the orchestral introduction of the second movement and the gentle prosecution as if, after having found her place, she does not pretend to usurp that of the other. For his part, Järvi excellently stresses the wider variety of moods of the concerto without losing sight of the aim, although there are not many moments to express here the tension of the previous work, but it is (brilliantly) recovered only in the last movement.
Rachmaninov’s two piano concertos are performed in this album in a fascinating manner by an accomplished pianist and by a sensitive conductor, leading the fine Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which you can perfectly hear thanks to the excellent sound of the recording, which helps to enter into the worlds created from time to time by these timeless compositions.