NAXOS – Boris Giltburg, piano with the Bussels Philharmonic led by Vassily Sinaisky. Producer: Andrew Keener Engineer: Dave Rowell
CHANDOS – Sinfonia of London led by John Wilson
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1
Rhapsody on A Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40
Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2
Prelude in C-sharp minor
Two releases of Rachmaninoff music are coming out this month on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth in 1873.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 was composed while he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory, and twenty-five years later reworked in 1917 and 1919, after the composer and his family had left Russia and settled in New York.
Structured as a set of variations, and more of a concerto than anything else, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is arguably Rachmaninoff’s most popular compositions for piano and orchestra.
The Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 was revised by the composer right after its 1926 premiere, again in 1928, and yet again in 1941, after the disastrous critical response it received when first performed.
Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony was all but finished in Germany in 1906, after Rachmaninoff escaped the political turmoil of Russia and the critical hostility that led to the failure his First Symphony, which he withdrew after its premiere and which had led to a four-year silence, during which the composer did almost no writing, describing his writer’s block as “Like the man who had suffered a stroke and for a long time had lost the use of his head and hands.”
Fortunately, first performed in Saint Petersburg and later in Moscow with the composer himself conducting, the Second Symphony was by contrast an immediate success.
The early-career Prelude in C-sharp minor or piano was composed in 1892 and ears later the orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski successfully orchestrated it.
Boris Giltburg, unimpeded by the technical challenges of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1, delivers a titanic performance – muscular at times, profoundly lyrical at others, with Vassily Sinaisky at the helm of the Brussels Philharmonic ably supporting the pianist.
In both the Rhapsody on A Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, and the Piano Concerto No. in G minor, Op. 40, Giltburg plays impassionedly, with powerful sonority, and dazzlingly nimble agility. The pianist’s exhaustive liner notes bespeak his love for and insights into the music of the Russian composer.
John Wilson leads the Sinfonia of London in an unabashedly Romantic performance of Rachmaninoff’s rarely heard and thrice-reworked Symphony No. 4., and in the equally off-the-beaten path Prelude in C-sharp minor.
Rafael de Acha © 2023
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