Nikolai Lugansky / Jorge Luis Prats

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos (Complete); Paganini Rhapsody

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This collection of Rachmaninov piano concertos is meant to give you all of his piano concertos in one affordably priced package. Which it does, and actually, these performances are pretty darn good. Pianist Nikolai Lugansky plays these difficult concertos with comfortable ease. The opening of the Concerto No. 3 is an excellent display of the strength and control of his playing. John Lill and conductor Tadaaki Otaka create a gorgeous picture out of subtle shadings of color and mood in the slow movement of the Concerto No. 1. Jorge Luis Prats is also an outstanding pianist, although there are moments when you wish he would take just a little more time to savor the music. None of these performances are over-the-top dramatic or schmaltzy. The problem is that these are recordings of three different pianists and orchestras, licensed from at least two different record labels, so the sound quality changes for each concerto. And the sound quality is good, but could be better on all of them. The piano is distant in all of them, particularly the Concerto No. 2, where it sounds as if the mics were placed at the back of the orchestra (the cymbals come out loud and clear). The Concerto No. 1 with Lill and the Concertos Nos. 3 & 4 with Lugansky have a better balance between the orchestra and piano. And this being a budget release, don't expect any liner notes at all. However, if you aren't a sound quality perfectionist, you are definitely getting your money's worth from these lesser-known artists.

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