RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2
A year without a recording by the vital, ever-youthful Krystian Zimerman is a year lost – and his previous recording for DG was in 1999. Given the calibre of his Rachmaninov, I pray there will not be a similar hiatus. In an interview in the disc booklet Zimerman says ‘you don’t play these concertos, you live them’; and there, surely, is the key to his raffish virtuosity, burning ardour and commitment.
The catalogue may bulge with recordings of both concertos and yet the verve and poetry of these performances somehow forbid comparison, even at the most exalted level. Zimerman claims that Rachmaninov says everything there is to say about the First Concerto in his own performance. Yet unforgettable as that performance is, I feel that had Rachmaninov heard Zimerman his admiration could have turned to envy. Zimerman opens in a blaze of rhetorical glory, before skittering through the first Vivace with the sort of winged brilliance that will reduce lesser pianists to despair. The cadenza is overwhelming and at 4'36" in the central Andante’s starry ascent his rubato tugs painfully at the heartstrings. In the finale, too, every one of Rachmaninov’s teeming notes is pin-pointed, despite a dizzying tempo, with diamond-like clarity.
The Second Concerto also burns and coruscates in all its first heat. A romantic to his fingertips, Zimerman inflects one familiar theme after another with a yearning, bittersweet intensity that he equates in his interview with first love. Hear him at 6'52" and ask yourself when you last heard this melody played with such a rapt sense of inwardness. Every page is alive with a sense of wonder at Rachmaninov’s genius. Seiji Ozawa and the Boston orchestra are ideal partners and DG’s sound and balance are fully worthy of this memorable release.