Alain Lefèvre / Kent Nagano

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4; Scriabin: Prométhée

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The pairing is fresh: Rachmaninov and Scriabin are thought of as polar opposites, but in fact they were friends, admired each other, and had more in common than fans of either one might care to admit. The program is noteworthy: it includes one of the very few performances on the market of the original 1926 version of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40. The work was poorly received when it was premiered (by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1927), and Rachmaninov took the criticism to heart and shaved several minutes from the work in two successive installments. No one here is exactly claiming that he was right the first time, but this rather odd work, the least popular of Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, benefits from multiple perspectives. It contains hints of Bartók and even of American jazz. One of the aspects Rachmaninov tightened up was the relatively undifferentiated blend of piano and orchestra. Here, pianist Alain Lefèvre instead embraces that trait, producing one of the least impassioned Rachmaninov performances on record. Everything is smoothed out, distributed evenly across musical space, played for fluency and aplomb rather than with the sound the giant-handed Rachmaninov is known to have made. In the accompanying Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, Op. 60, of Scriabin, it works great, for this work is a sort of anti-concerto that uses the piano as an orchestral instrument. Even in the Rachmaninov it may work, for this is a troublesome piece, and the harmony of aims between Lefèvre and conductor Kent Nagano is close. But sample well enough to know what you're getting into here.

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