Leif Ove Andsnes / Antonio Pappano

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 3 & 4

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This release by Leif Ove Andsnes was anxiously awaited by both fans and EMI executives after the pop sales levels achieved by his album featuring the first two Rachmaninov concertos, and it seems likely that the Norwegian pianist will once again serve those who stand and wait. He has executed the undeniably neat trick of breathing new life into some of the most stolidly ensconced works of the piano concerto repertory, draining them of Russian sentiment and replacing those vital fluids with stunning technical mastery delivered at breakneck speed (especially in the outer movements of the Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30), and with a sort of hard edge. In so doing he runs counter to the type established by generations of keyboard-pounding Russians, and those who want that kind of a reading have many other choices. It's clear, however, that Rachmaninov has survived the disrespect heaped on his music during the modernist tyranny, and that his music is strong enough to reveal unsuspected facets in new readings. Andsnes finds plenty of them; hence the excitement. The two concertos have different flavors, and buyers may prefer one or the other. The Piano Concerto No. 3, a work explicitly composed with blood-and-guts-desiring American audiences in mind, is a bigger surprise for the listener, while the delicate and even bluesy Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 40, from late in the composer's life (played here in its 1941 revision), benefits from his subtle control over the entire range of the keyboard. Only confirmed members of the old school, however, should be discouraged from trying this out. Booklet notes are in English, German, and French.

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