RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3 (Sudbin)
The C minor Second Concerto has left me sitting on the fence. One moment I found myself luxuriating in the gorgeous soundscape, the grand sweep of the playing and the sure-footed narrative in the company of what seems to be an accommodating partnership. Then some little detail would snap me out of my comfort zone – an unusual accent, a buried phrase brought to the fore, a passage played in a fresh or unconventional way.
Some examples: Sudbin plays the famous eight opening chords way faster than the composer (as, controversially, does Stephen Hough with Andrew Litton – taking the score at face value, perhaps, rather than the composer’s own recording) but copies the unwritten breaks to the left-hand chords that Rachmaninov also adds. Sudbin then ignores the ritenuto before the a tempo con passione (bar 9). Why? It diminishes the effect and the eight chords become a throwaway gesture. But then move to the section after the alla marcia and Sudbin takes your breath away with playing of matchless beauty (6'27" et seq). The slow movement is artfully shaped, the perfect curve that Rachmaninov loved so much, with the cadenza forcefully articulated. Hopes are high for the finale … but has there ever been a more sluggish, deconstructed understanding of allegro scherzando? In the coda, unlike the rest of the concerto, the piano is buried almost inaudibly under the orchestra. And yet, despite the reservations, this fresh, thought-provoking and entirely individual look at the concerto absolutely demands attention.
No such reservations apply to the Third Concerto. All that needs to be said, really, is that this is a truly outstanding account from the recording team, soloist, conductor and orchestra (the silky-smooth strings, brass ensemble and woodwind soloists deserve special praise). Sudbin opts for the bigger of the two first-movement cadenzas, the most convincingly I have heard it played since the great, much-missed Rafael Orozco. Sakari Oramo takes the Intermezzo’s opening unusually slowly (a grief-stricken 2'22" as opposed to the composer’s 1'51" with Ormandy). It’s highly effective, as is the way in which he holds everything so tautly together in the finale. For Sudbin this is no mere virtuoso vehicle (though he does not stint on that element) where telling detail is subsumed into the whole in the most intelligent way. If this were the first time I had heard the Third Concerto I should count myself fortunate.