After Andsnes' superb Grieg Concerto, also with the BPO (under Jansons rather than Pappano) I was anxious to hear this new recording, and was glad I did - it's excellent.
This CD comes into competition with Krystian Zimerman's recording of the same two concertos with Ozawa, released by DG last year. That version of the First was also extremely fine, but with a rather different interpretation. Zimerman's was fiery and intense (he explained in interviews at the time that these were youthful works and needed to explode - `you don't play the Rachmaninov concertos, you live them', I seem to recall). His playing was high voltage throughout whereas Andsnes, with no lack of fire, takes a more patrician approach which give just as fine rewards. Pappano gives superb support as well, this is very much a successful symbiosis, with the BPO playing like the great orchestra we know they are. This ranks alongside the greatest Firsts: the composer himself, Janis and Pletnev as well as Zimerman.
Also the DG recording was sharp-edged and intense, whereas this EMI disc is slightly mellower with the piano and orchestra wonderfully blended. I do prefer the piano sound here as well: it's rich and sounds beautiful, but is ideally focused as well. Some found the Zimerman `sound', coupled with his high octane pianism (electrifying though it is) tiring on the ear after a while.
Zimerman has often said that recording the sound of his playing is problematic; he hasn't made a solo recording for 10 years for this exact reason - which is perhaps one reason why sonic deficiencies all but wrecked his version of the Second, where the solo instrument is much too closely observed, giving a clattery feel to the performance, with every note audible.
No such problems here: recorded live in the Berlin Philharmonie, Andsnes' version of the Second is very enjoyable, full of wonderful touches from soloist, conductor and orchestra: the exciting climax and coda of the first movement are finely handled, while in the slow movement, slightly more flowing than normal, the collaboration between Andsnes and orchestral soloists (particularly the flute, presumably BPO Principal Emanuel Pahud, given fine presence) is gorgeous.
In the Finale's lovely second subject Pappano manages to impart some idiomatic Slavonic melancholy, if not quite as much as Ashkenazy when conducting for Helene Grimaud in her excellent version, which alongside this new Andsnes version is my favourite in digital sound. Also hear the brooding lower strings in the build up to the finale's climax which, as with Andsnes' Grieg, is played at full throttle but strictly `a tempo', with no playing to the gallery. Even so, they don't surpass Grimaud and Ashkenazy in sweep and power here. There is about 15 seconds of applause, not separately tracked.
If you've got Richter's classic account on DG, Grimaud on Teldec, and Andsnes in the Second, I think you've got all bases covered.