RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 4 (Trifonov)
Every pianist who records Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto these days has to have their own take, it seems, on the famous opening eight measures. What the composer notated is, apparently, ripe for improvement. Thus Trifonov gives us the first four bars at a consistent mezzo-forte (not pianissimo, poco a poco crescendo), thereafter inserting the acciaccaturas which Rachmaninov played on both his 1924 and 1929 recordings but which are not in the score. Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin bring to these opening pages an atmosphere of pessimism and sorrow. It’s a view. Mine is that it all gets off to a bad start. Thereafter things go more or less swimmingly, for Trifonov is a gifted pianist, the Philadelphians have the music in their blood and Nézet-Séguin has an eye for detail and careful phrasing (though I was not totally convinced by the tempo relationships in the last movement). Overall, this is another fine, well-recorded addition to the lengthy discography but one which neither astonished nor moved me.
Far more successful is the Fourth Concerto, recorded live (unlike the Second) some two and a half years earlier in the same venue (Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia). This is adroitly and excitingly executed by Trifonov while taking slightly more measured tempos in all three movements than Rachmaninov, Michelangeli and Hough (all roughly the same). The bloom and intonation of the Philadelphia strings are a delight and one would be lucky indeed to be introduced to this marvellous score through this recording, though the presence of any audience comes as a surprise when enthusiastic applause and whooping greet the end of the performance.
In between the two concertos come the three movements transcribed by Rachmaninov of Bach’s seven-movement E major Partita for solo violin. Their good humour and charm completely elude Trifonov, who is merely dutiful and matter-of-fact compared with the light-hearted touch of Idil Biret, let alone the composer (1942).
The marketing of this release relies on the somewhat strained concept of a musical journey. Hence the sequence of striking faux-1920s photographs of Daniil Trifonov with a suitcase and dressed like a Russian spy on a historical railway (actually the Bluebell Line in Sussex). The disc’s title ‘Destination Rachmaninov – Departure’ adds nothing to one’s understanding or enjoyment of the contents.