GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No 2
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And Denis Matsuev has certainly got ‘it’ – whatever that magic, unteachable ingredient is – and is not afraid to flaunt it in this most flagrantly emotional of concertos. The piano bass of the sweeping opening theme swings like a pendulum, as it should; he gives us a true maestoso alla marcia midway through the first movement, in which every accent of its final pages is crisply executed. In tandem with Matsuev’s fabulous articulation is his beautifully nuanced playing, matched in the slow movement by the NYPO’s superb first clarinet; the lingering final (arpeggiated) chord is a mere whisper. The first subject of the finale, the most technically awkward passage of the whole concerto, is delivered with commanding aplomb and crystal clarity. It is, all in all, a most exciting performance. Two things militate against its complete success: the recorded balance favours the piano to the detriment of some orchestral detail (backward percussion and horns), and in the final stampede to the finish – what is it? I’m not sure. Something that Matsuev does in the interlocking octaves is out of kilter. Frustratingly, it’s enough to disengage you from the thrill of the concerto’s inexorable conclusion.
Rachmaninov attended the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and no doubt noted in several of the work’s episodes the young American’s indebtedness to the Russian concerto tradition, made all the more obvious in Ferde Grofé’s overblown symphonic garb. Matsuev (pace a first entry that is far from mf tranquillo) and Gilbert have the courtesy of playing what is written in what is an outstanding, rather than a benchmark, performance.