RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No 2 RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherezade
One of the particular pleasures of this filmed concert is watching the avuncular maestro Yuri Temirkanov direct a group of players who know his every gesture so intimately. What wonderful and subtle effects he can achieve with the absolute minimum – less is more – and the sound he produces seems to reflect his podium personality.
The programme begins with Denis Matsuev in what is now one of his signature pieces. Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto is given an urgent, passionate reading from the outset, with the pianist’s left hand like a tolling bell underneath the first statement of that magnificent opening theme. Matsuev, like the composer, is not one to linger but takes the second movement even faster than Rachmaninov (10'12" as opposed to 10'40", a far cry from Ashkenazy’s 11'53" and Richter’s 11'47") – such a heart-melting melody does not need to be over-egged to achieve an effect. The last movement is simply breathtaking, with the most difficult passage of the concerto thrown off at speed and with thrilling precision. Matsuev hurls himself into the cadenza and the blistering conclusion. Two mellow Rachmaninov encores underline his credentials as one of the composer’s greatest living exponents.
Rachmaninov’s last work, the Symphonic Dances, and Rimsky’s Sheherazade follow. The unnamed Annecy venue has not the most resonant of acoustics and it is greatly to Temirkanov’s credit that he conjures up such a lush string sound from his players, with violins either side, cellos in front. Wind solos, particularly the saxophone, oboe and first horn, are expertly balanced without any artificial highlighting and, though I have heard Sheherazade’s violin solo played more sweetly, the show-stopping ‘Festival at Baghdad’ is dispatched with irresistible panache. Even more affecting, perhaps surprisingly, is the encore: Elgar’s Salut d’amour. Temirkanov phrases this with such affectionate care that the piece is elevated from hackneyed salon Victoriana to miniature tone-poem.
All in all, with The Force of Destiny Overture as a bonus and a generous 150 minutes’ running time, this is one of the better DVDs of its kind.