PROKOFIEV; RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos No 2 (Matsuev)
Gergiev. Matsuev. Rachmaninov. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot as it happens. This is, apparently, a live recording though you’d never know it, the concert hall of the Mariinsky Theatre eerily devoid of both coughers and clappers. The piano is recorded very well forwards, affording an excellent opportunity of hearing even the most insignificant passagework loud and clear. Right from the start, there’s a feeling of impatience from Matsuev and, when building up to the alla marcia section, of a scarily frantic quality which I found at odds with the music. Of course, technically speaking Matsuev is a phenomenon: just hear how he handles the first subject of the finale – difficult to play in tempo at the ferocious speed he adopts – but the recording balance means he steamrollers over such passages as the dialogue between himself and the woodwind in the bars immediately preceding, a further example where this recording falls below the best. The only time I was moved by Matsuev’s playing was the return of the second subject in this movement, which he plays so magically well that you wonder why the rest of it is so hard-hearted. A burst of over-excitement leads to a near derailment 10 bars from the end.
The same reservations over piano/orchestra balance pertain to the Prokofiev but here Matsuev’s abrasive vehemence pays dividends in a performance that exactly captures the sardonic, bitter character of this ‘deeply fraught work’ (Daniel Jaffé in his excellent booklet). The grotesque first-movement cadenza is superbly graded – one can quite understand why listeners at the work’s 1913 premiere were said to be ‘frozen with fright, hair standing on end’. In the perpetuum mobile Scherzo you will hear more of Prokofiev’s wonderfully deft orchestral punctuation from the lighter touch of Bavouzet and Noseda (Chandos, 3/14); and Jorge Bolet and Ainslee Cox on Genesis (back in 1973) take no prisoners when it comes to the frenetic finale. But this Matsuev/Gergiev Prokofiev Second can be thoroughly recommended … unlike its coupling.