RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No 2
The piano and orchestra are on an equal footing throughout Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody, meaning that the best performances should ideally project both virtuoso bravura and chamber-like interaction between soloist and ensemble. This happens throughout the Second Concerto’s opening movement, where both pianist Anna Vinnitskaya and conductor Krzystof Urbański resist the temptation to smother lyrical passages. I especially like how Vinnitsaya seemingly throws away the famous second subject, avoiding the kind of generic ritards young pianists favour in the name of expression. By contrast, the performers do not define the slow movement’s polyrhythmic textures with the pliability and inner sense of pulse required to move the music forwards, as one readily hears from Hough/Litton, Ashkenazy/Previn and Kocsis/de Waart. The Allegro scherzando’s opening piano flourish is accurate but unexciting, followed by clunky interchanging phrases between piano and orchestra, while the incisive imitative sequences lack the stinging intensity of Katchen/Solti, Andsnes/Pappano and Zimerman/Ozawa, even in softest moments.
The backward, piano-dominated balance helps neither here nor in the Paganini Rhapsody, where the composer’s myriad felicities of concertante scoring are often reduced to a pleasant backdrop. For example, Variation 3’s fluttering winds and Var 8’s brass punctuations fall flat next to their vivid Hough/Litton counterparts, although slower variations like Var 12’s minuet and the foreboding Var 22 leading into the famous Var 23 are excellently aligned and characterised. Vinnitskaya also seems more attuned to the work’s truly rhapsodic elements (Var 11’s suave double-note runs, for example), but doesn’t quite achieve the tigerish and demonic momentum distinguishing the recent Berezovsky/Liss traversal, not to mention the vivacious Wild/Horenstein stereo-era reference version. As you’ve gathered, this release faces tough catalogue competition.