Bruno-Leonardo Gelber / Isaac Karabtchevsky

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3

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Given his rather extensive concert career and broad discography, high expectations might be given to Bruno-Leonardo Gelber's recording of Rachmaninoff's fiendishly difficult Third Piano Concerto. This CD, which clocks in at a paltry 41 minutes, fails to live up to any such expectations. While a close study of a composer's intentions is a sound practice, Gelber's decision to use Rachmaninoff's own recordings as a guide for tempo selection does not consistently produce favorable results. There are moments, particularly in the first movement, where momentum comes nearly to a halt. In the Finale, drastic and unnecessary ritenutos rob the music of its impetuousness. Gelber's playing in the outer movements is surprisingly sloppy. He frequently surges ahead of the orchestra in the Finale; rapid passagework is often run together and imprecise while powerful chordal sections are banged out indelicately. The Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana doesn't do any favors for Gelber, either. Its sound is rather thin and lacking in any lush, sweeping romanticism. Here too, playing is sometimes unfocused and inexact. The overall sound quality of the recording is also less than expected; forte passages in particular become an indistinguishable wash of sound. Listeners in the market for a archetypal recording of this wonderful concerto may wish to look elsewhere; Van Cliburn or Volodos are both excellent alternatives for pianist and orchestra alike.

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