This review is directed toward serious, experienced listeners who are familiar with the works discussed.
Once again the young German pianist Joseph Moog has made a recording that goes straight to the top of the list. This CD pairs one of the most familiar concertos with one that is rarely encountered.
Although the D Minor Concerto of Rubinstein is infrequently played, it has been in the repertories of many formidable pianists. From Rubinstein's time to the present day, someone has had this work in his fingers. Ponti, Ginzburg, Levant, Lewenthal, Hamelin, et al. have made recordings of this work, and Cherkassky and Wild played it live.
Like so many others of his time, Rubinstein wrote this work to demonstrate his own special style at the piano. That style was repeatedly described as grand, powerful, and sweeping. Rubinstein's contemporaries always noted the forcefulness of his playing more than his accuracy.
Rubinstein's D Minor Concerto certainly requires the above-mentioned elements in order to be at its most effective. Simply being "pretty" or "expressive" will not work with this piece.
Joseph Moog plays this work to perfection. He provides it with the necessary power (I am reminded of Jorge Bolet when Moog makes his entrance with those thunderous chords) and speed. But he also presents the beauty of the work without overly emphasizing it. Whereas some other recordings make this work sound a bit overdone, Moog's driving pulse brings out the full impact of the music.
This recording is substantially better than the outstanding one by Hamelin. What more can I say?!
With the Rachmaninoff Third, Moog faces stiffer competition by the simple fact of the number of great pianists who have recorded this work. (Here I will say that the majority of recordings of the Rach Third should never have been made!) And again, Moog rises to the top of the list. If you favor the performances given by Rachmaninoff himself and Earl Wild, you will certainly like this offering.
Moog plays the Op. 30 at a brisk tempo, but not excessively fast, like so many pianists who change this lovely piece of music into an athletic event. His clarity and power are as impressive as his musicality. Moog give the finest performance I have ever heard of that exotic waltz-like section in the latter part of the second movement. His energy and clarity in the repeated notes of the third movement are stunning, and he does not cheat as do so many other pianists by omitting repeated notes in certain measures. In the first movement Moog plays the original cadenza, the lighter one described as "Mendelssohnian" by Earl Wild, and recorded by Wild and Rachmaninoff.
As an aside, I will point out that those huge chords in the alternate first movement cadenza practically mirror the opening chords of the Rubinstein Fourth. Certainly Rachmaninoff knew the Rubinstein work.
The engineering of this CD is absolutely first-rate. The piano is heard quite clearly and the beautiful sounds created by Moog are easily perceived. Yet the orchestra is full and powerful, and the entire sound is rich. The conductor and orchestra are with Mr. Moog every step, and the result is a CD that you should immediately add to your collection.