RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No 2. Études-tableaux Op 33
Boris Giltburg certainly has something fresh to say in Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, that well-worn, much-loved masterpiece, and in his new Naxos recording with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Carlos Miguel Prieto, he says it elegantly and eloquently. I avoid the word ‘personal’ because, while it is obvious that everything is deeply felt, what we hear seems a portrayal of the composer’s musical imagery, rather than the soloist’s take on it. The ‘money tunes’ aren’t milked but delivered with patrician simplicity. Consequently, they speed directly to the heart, creating resonance instead of overflow. Prieto and the Scots are near-ideal collaborators, stepping robustly forwards when called for, and always supporting with the utmost tact. When roles are reversed, as in the Adagio, Giltburg’s chaste accompaniment effortlessly holds the beautiful wind solos aloft. His varied articulation lends the swirls and eddies of figuration remarkable expressive vitality. For all the admirable attention to detail, one of the most appealing aspects of this performance is its grand trajectory. The march near the end of the first movement abjures any hint of a weary slog through a snow-covered Siberia in favour of a courageous, purposeful progress towards a goal, that goal only fully revealed in the third-movement finale as the triumph of unalloyed joy.
As one might have anticipated from Giltburg’s recent recording of the Op 39 Études-tableaux (6/16), Op 33 is an equally choice offering. He brings the same aptness to his realisations of Rachmaninov’s often extreme emotional evocations, be they the robust swagger in the F minor Étude (No 1), interrupted as though confidence has caved in to debilitating doubt; the contorted ambivalence of the C minor Étude (No 3), opening up to the endless vistas of C major with a palpable sense of relief; or the true tempo moderato of (No 4), where the carefully delineated voice leading conjures the air of an ancient folk tale. Rachmaninov’s obsession with bells is always in evidence in these unforced, beautifully pianistic readings. The transcription of Kreisler’s Liebesleid and the Polka de WR round out the programme with their heady perfume of overripe nostalgia.
One imagines that Giltburg must be thoroughly conversant with Rachmaninov’s recorded legacy but his readings are far from simulacra. Rather than imitating Rachmaninov, Giltburg seems to imbibe the composer’s spirit. Doing so, he provides the best testimony I know of that Rachmaninov’s 116-year-old signature concerto still has a long, healthy life ahead of it.