on 16 May 2001
Some of the greatest pianists of the 20th century have given us stand-out recordings of Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto. That stellar group must include Artur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn, who each offered rousing performances with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Sviatoslav Richter's 1959 recording with Stanislaw Wislocki and the Warsaw Philharmonic remains powerful, commanding, and, for some, definitive. Outside this group, many recordings have a certain tedious familiarity, but I have to disagree with Dan Davis, who puts this effort by Helene Grimaud and Vladimir Ashkenazy in the mass of undistinguished or "pedestrian" recordings. The key to the great recordings seems to be the ability of pianists like Rubinstein, Cliburn, or Richter to stand up against Rachmaninov's magnificent orchestral score, one that has overpowered the playing of many others including Evgeny Kissin, Gary Graffman, and Earl Wild. Rather than competing on that level, Grimaud and Ashkenazy take a radically different hold on the concerto, one that is fresh, interesting, and substantially different from Grimaud's first recording in 1993. Ashkenazy's "fussy conducting" in fact contains the orchestra and allows Grimaud the dominant voice in the concerto. Grimaud responds with a breathtaking but subtle performance, combining lyrical beauty, sensitivity, and remarkable clarity. In the notes to the CD, Grimaud speaks of the "different kind of freedom" possible in working with a conductor who is an accomplished pianist and it certainly shows in this recording. Given the choice of only one version, I would still choose Richter's 1959 recording - fortunately, I don't have to make that choice. Anyone who has grown weary of "samey" recordings should enjoy this refreshing interpretation by Grimaud and Ashkenazy.
I have a number of versions of this work and this one from Grimauld/Ashkenazy is now close to the top of my personal list. The balance between soloist and orchestra is excellent and I suspect that this is due to the conductor being one of the great pianists of our time and he knows how to achieve this. Grimauld is one of my favourite pianists and she doesn't disappoint here bringing a depth of understanding that not everybody can achieve. (If you get a chance to see her live don't miss it!)
A very easy recommendation!
PS I don't mind the pictures of Grimauld, she is very easy on the eye. :-)
on 7 July 2012
Aside from the slightly tacky "classical music babe" photoshots they chose to market this disc, it is a stunning aural display of a deeply talented musician. She brings a touch, fluency and subtlety of emphasis to these works which few modern pianists can match - in my opinion.