Denis Matsuev / Alan Gilbert / New York Philharmonic

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2; Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

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Russian pianist Denis Matsuev has established himself as one of the most dynamic and virtuosic performers of his generation, and his program on this RCA album with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic is ideally suited to his extraordinary abilities. The pairing of Sergey Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a natural one, particularly because of the works' shared post-romanticism (note Rachmaninov's influence on Gershwin's slow theme in the Rhapsody), as well as for the dazzling writing for the piano in both works. Of course, the challenge for Matsuev is to make his part appear effortless, and he succeeds so well in both performances that listeners may be a bit blasé about his playing, taking it in without really considering what knuckle-busters these pieces really are. If anything is the cause of such easy acceptance, it is undoubtedly because the Piano Concerto is likely played more often than any other, and the Rhapsody in Blue is almost equally famous to audiences. But don't let over-familiarity dull appreciation of the musicians' efforts, for Matsuev gives everything he has to make the writing come across with clarity and precision, and Gilbert and the orchestra provide solid support in both performances. RCA's recording was made in 2012 in Avery Fisher Hall, and it's full of vibrant sonorities and rich tone colors.

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