Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Yuja Wang (piano)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Recorded April 2010 in Teatro Communale di Ferrara
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2011
CD No: DG 477 9308
Duration: 56 minutes
Recorded live, both these performances shed fresh light on two of Rachmaninov’s best-known pieces. Between them, Yuja Wang and Claudio Abbado, together with the willing members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, give us a playful and scintillating version of the Paganini Rhapsody (each of the variations separately tracked), time allowed for placing details meaningfully and to vividly characterise each of Rachmaninov’s commentaries on the so-familiar Paganini tune (taken from the last of his violin Caprices). It’s a very engaging performance notable for not rushing the music but for relishing its colours and modulations, with Yuja Wang very much part of the whole but playing with plenty of personality, too. Abbado ensures that Rachmaninov’s scoring seems new-minted with some enthusiastic and polished playing. This poetic and vibrant account is very welcome.
The same is true of the concerto, a flowing interpretation free from wallowing and sentimentality but aflame with inner passion that, once again, rejuvenates one’s reaction to music that can be programmed and heard too often. Wang’s subtlety is welcome, so too her directness, underpinned by a flawless technique, Abbado and his players caught up in a flexible and lively performance free from ennui, the music’s peaks fervently reached, and in the slower sections Rachmaninov’s soul is revealed without mawkishness, the central Adagio given as an expressive reverie, rather confidentially, yet with heart-beating fluctuations. The finale, its melodic contours beautifully moulded, enjoys exciting impetus; with some wonderfully crisp articulation from Yuja Wang, Abbado pressing a little on the accelerator but then really underlining the ‘Rach-man-in-ov’ final pay-off, the grandiose closing bars are thrilling
The recording gives the orchestra space and dynamism, and Yuja Wang is naturally balanced, as befits a concert setting. These versions of familiar Rachmaninov works could just be what the doctor ordered.