There are pianistic fireworks in this recording of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Denis Matsuev, but not as many as in standard performances. Anyone who has heard recordings of these works by pianists like Vladimir Horowitz and Vladimir Ashkenazy, not to mention the composer himself, knows that they are full of pianistic fireworks. But sensitive listeners know that there is more than just fireworks to these pieces, and so does Matsuev. From start to finish, the Russian pianist demonstrates that he is a super virtuoso in a class with Horowitz, Ashkenazy, and Rachmaninov. From the Third's opening movement's knuckle-busting cadenza to its bone-crushing finale, Matsuev can handle everything the piece tosses at him. But far more importantly, Matsuev can also handle the music's interpretive demands. This is especially evident in the central Intermezzo, which has all the sensitivity, sensuality, and poetry one could hope for. Equally fine is Matsuev's account of the Paganini Rhapsody, with its breathtaking combination of flashing virtuosity and soulful sensuality. Conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra provide a vivid backdrop for the pianist, but it's Matsuev's show, and he makes the most of it. The super audio digital sound, while clean enough, is somewhat recessed, and at times both the soloist and the orchestra get swallowed in the general din.
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Review
by James Leonard