Yannick Nézet-Séguin / Philadelphia Orchestra / Daniil Trifonov

Destination Rachmaninov: Departure – Piano Concertos 2 & 4

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You might not care for the Destination Rachmaninov concept attached to this release (and a later one, with the other two concertos): there are graphics showing Daniil Trifonov, perhaps the pianist of the moment at the time of the album's 2019 release, in an old train compartment, and even a video showing him in the Rocky Mountains, getting thrown off a train after playing a piano on it. The concept does not really address the specific music involved. You might object to the acoustics here: Deutsche Grammophon's engineers seem to have struggled with the rather cavernous Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, producing a muddy sound in the live Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 40, and a rather brittle edge in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. None of it matters. If the marketing concept serves to introduce new listeners to Rachmaninov's concertos, those listeners will get the very best. Start your sampling with the first movement of the Concerto No. 2: the work has been recorded countless times, but the combination of restless forward motion and crystal-clear detail here have very rarely been matched. The Piano Concerto No. 4, the "modern" Rachmaninov concerto with its hints of Prokofiev and American jazz, is nonpareil and gets a big cheer from the Philadelphia audience (the work rarely gets this reaction). Trifonov strikes an edgy tone, even in the brooding slow movement, and carries it through brilliantly. Whether the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Seguin is swept up in the excitement or simply draws on institutional memory (Rachmaninov himself played the concerto with the orchestra under Eugene Ormandy in 1941), the strings have rarely sounded so penetrating and rich. Trifonov does not ape Rachmaninov's own recordings of the concertos, although he follows those rather than the score at a couple of points, and the interpolation of three of the composer's Bach transcriptions as an entr'acte is very Rachmaninovian. Instead, he inhabits the music in a profound way. All aboard!

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