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This review is from: Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-4 (Audio CD)
There are numerous recordings by the World's greatest painists of Concertos 2 and 3, but none that I have heard quite come up to the quality of Ashkenazy and Previn: I couple them together, since all these concertos require a solid and unselfish partnership. To be sure, there are moments when the spotlight is on both soloist and then orchestra, but we must never lose sight of the fact that the balance is absolutely vital in any successful performance, and without it, the music cannot flow: here the balance is perfect, and the details clear - you will return to the works again and again, and hear things that perhaps you may previously have missed, or want to hear anew.
You may not know Concertos 1 and 4, so this is your opportunity to examine them. No. 1 was revised extensively by him in 1917(this is the revision), and it contains some haunting melodies, one right at the outset after the opening flourish, (itself reminiscent of the Schumann and Grieg Concertos). There is another haunting melody in the finale, and the piano writing is extremely colourful - this is in no way an "apprentice work" despite it being the Composer's Op. 1. It is shorter than its two successors, and lighter in content, but in no way inferior in melodic content and brilliance. Rachmaninov was pleased with his First Concerto (although somewhat peeved when audiences just wanted the Second!), and so will you be.
The Fourth is more difficult; it originally dated from 1926, but Rachmaninov constantly revised it and it only reached its present form in 1941. It is even shorter than No. 1, but taut and concise: you will not find soaring tunes, but it is strangely compelling. The opening melody is lengthy and given out in full-handed chords by the piano with a rich orchestral accompaniment; we are thus immediately plunged into the work. The slow movement is not the usual sensuous lyricism, but more reserved with a melody which has been unkindly likened to "Three Blind Mice". However, ignore this: the movement stands on its own, and foes not need this type of comparison! It is linked to the finale which is a glittering display by both soloist and orchestra with some sardonic touches, but although there is no "big" tune as such, there is a poetic and lyrical central section which I think you will find quite haunting. Ashkenazy and Previn give us a moving account of it, which, the more I hear, the more I like.
These recordings are - incredibly - 40 years old, but like a good wine, they are appreciated much more with age.