Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.1
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Barry Douglas (piano)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded “third week of June, 1993” (sic) in Palais de la Musique, Strasbourg, France
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: RCA RED SEAL
Duration: 74 minutes
Recorded in 1993 but not released until now (mid-2008), these are exceptional performances superbly engineered by Tony Faulkner with a clarity and tangibility that fully captures the positive chemistry between Barry Douglas and the late Evgeny Svetlanov (who died in 2002). Indeed as Douglas recalls, in the booklet note, he was on “cloud nine” during these sessions, which finished ahead of schedule despite a lack of rehearsal time. What comes across here – vividly – is the closeness of pianist and conductor in their musical rapport as well as Svetlanov’s wonderfully detailed control of ‘his’ orchestra (this is the USSR State Symphony of old) and Douglas’s sublime success of mixing passion and discretion in his variegated and focussed accounts of the solo parts.
Really nothing more needs to be said. These performances have the spontaneity of live performances in which everything comes off. The orchestra’s ‘attack’ and revealing id electrifying and soulful if less ‘Russian’ in timbre than in previous decades but still with an attractive Slavonic ‘edge’ that is gratifyingly distinguishable as well as apt for the music. Douglas’s suave playing (try the slow movement of Concerto No.1) is both refined and eloquent, meltingly beautiful in fact, and flamboyant passages have all the incision and emotional temperament needed, and – in the finale of Concerto No.1 – there is a playfully ‘dancing’ quality that more headlong accounts overlook.
A performance as charismatic as this reminds what a fine piece Concerto No.1 is. Of course, its two successors (and Paganini Rhapsody) now overshadow this early example (as they do the great Fourth Concerto). Performances and recordings of No.3 are legion – this one thrills the senses and rejuvenates a dulled palate. It’s a spacious account (46 minutes), heroically played by Douglas, and graced by an orchestral point and honour (antiphonal violins a meaningful disposition amongst the velvety strings) that really locates the work’s heart. This is a performance of remarkable unity between soloist, orchestra and conductor, with a light and shade and expressive capacity that is (today) ‘unusual’ in accounts of Rachmaninov’s music. Maybe the finale will be found too measured by some (or the trumpets too dominating – but they are so crisp and stylish), however, the lucidity (and fantasy) is beguiling and the strength of purpose unfailing. If the work’s final four chords do indeed enunciate Rach-man-in-ov, then it is he who has the last word. An unmissable release.