Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943): Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor, Op.18, George Gershwin (1898-1937): Rhapsody in Blue. Denis Matsuev, piano. New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert. Cd 1 RCA. 887655415542. Recorded in 2012. Booklet: Russian and English. Total time: 48’49.
Denis Matsuev, an extraordinary pianist, offers, as part of the 140th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninoff an album that confronts the Concerto No. 2 with the Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin. A confrontation at first somewhat unexpected between the romanticism of the Russian and the American jazz rhythm. Yet these two composers are closely related to New York City where this album was recorded in collaboration with the orchestra of this city, under the baton of Music Director Alan Gilbert.
The Rachmaninov by Matsuev is obviously technically flawless and pianist makes us hear heard a multiplicity of details of the score. His powerful touch is an undeniable asset to make dynamic contrasts. The sound of the New York Philharmonic adds which avoids brilliance matches perfectly this approach. But the interest of this recording is the refusal of pure virtuosity. Matsuev and Gilbert focus on the strong artistic personality of Rachmaninoff, a pianist-creator anxious to bring a personal touch to works for piano. This performance requires some times to adjust as the beauty of textures is more mineral and raw than sensual and refined. But since Hélène Grimaud and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Teldec), in a more traditional fashion, one does not recall another exciting recording.
Different style with the Rhapsody in Blue. We obviously do not hear a jazzy reading such as Leonard Bernstein twirling on the keyboard… Matsuev takes advantage of the rhythmic and harmonic logic rather than the style. If there is a rhapsodic spirit, it is more intellectual than narrative or evocative. But we must be grateful to the pianist to treat this score without any jazzy political correctness. A radical and fundamentally modernist blows on this reading. Alan Gilbert is a perfectly flexible, both at ease in driving the whole orchestra and providing roome to the soloists who are naturally musicians with genius.
This album, highly personal and intellectually well thought, will not please everyone, but it stands out as among the few you will come back to regularly.