Twenty-four year old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang is widely recognized for playing that combines the spontaneity and fearless imagination of youth with the discipline and precision of a mature artist. Regularly lauded for her controlled, prodigious technique, Yuja’s command of the piano has been described as “astounding” and “superhuman,” and she has been praised for her authority over the most complex technical demands of the repertoire, the depth of her musical insight, as well as her fresh interpretations and graceful, charismatic stage presence.
Very much an artist of the twenty-first century, Ukranian-born Lisitsa secured a vast global audience purely through social media. She quickly became one of the most viewed pianists on YouTube with over fifty million million visitors to her videos. Lisitsa has recorded all four Rachmaninov piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Francis.
Legendary Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy is considered the pre-eminent interpreter of Rachmaninov’s music, and as he marked his seventy-fifth birthday (6 July 2012), he recorded a final album of the composer’s music featuring the Seven Pieces (Moments Musicaux) Op.10, three Nocturnes, and ten shorter early works, including an unpublished 'Song without Words'.
Our acclaimed series continues with one of the acknowledged masters of Romantic music, Sergei Rachmaninov. This album is taken from live performances in England between 1999 and 2005 by Russian pianist Sergei Dukachev and includes some favourite Preludes and Etudes, the Second Sonata and the relatively rarely-heard Variations. Dukachev is gaining an enthusiastic following in the UK as well as in his native Russia, and the brilliance of these concert performances demonstrates why.
Vladimir Ashkenazy's love of Rachmaninov's music is evident not only on the keyboard, but also at the podium. His conducting of Rachmaninov's music is absolutely first rate, with an ample mix of passion and precision. I am certain that these fine recordings undoubtedly helped raise his stature as a noteworthy conductor. Under his direction, Bernard Haitink's Concertgebouw Orchestra gives distinguished, technically perfect performances steeped in emotion. Their level of playing is superior to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's under Lorin Maazel's baton (Maazel and the BPO recorded a set of Rachmaninov's symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon around the time of Ashkenazy's recordings.). The best performance of Ashkenazy's Rachmaninov cycle has to be that of the Second Symphony, but the others, especially those of the tone poems, are almost as good too. Of course, Decca's sound engineers did a wonderful job capturing the Concertgebouw's (the orchestra's hall, that is) warm acoustics. If these aren't the definitive recordings of Rachmaniov's symphonies, then they ought to be.
Joseph Moog is a young pianist with a superb technique and a warm tone. He also composes. On this album, he interestingly pairs concertos by two of Russia’s foremost pianist-composers. Anton Rubinstein’s Fourth Piano Concerto actually was in Rachmaninoff’s repertory as a soloist. Drawing attention to the neglected Rubinstein concerto by following it with a more famous work is a device that certainly is welcome. The opening movement of the Rubinstein is heavily influenced by Schumann’s piano concerto, particularly its first movement. Moog here takes on the mantle of the Schumannesque lyric poet, his tonal palette featuring halftones of grays and browns. Moog’s second movement is a true andante , or walking tempo, unlike some other performances. He plays the affecting opening melody simply and directly, introducing a shadow of melancholy that he sustains beautifully throughout the movement.
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev has established himself as one of the most dynamic and virtuosic performers of his generation, and his program on this RCA album with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic is ideally suited to his extraordinary abilities. The pairing of Sergey Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a natural one, particularly because of the works' shared post-romanticism (note Rachmaninov's influence on Gershwin's slow theme in the Rhapsody), as well as for the dazzling writing for the piano in both works. Of course, the challenge for Matsuev is to make his part appear effortless, and he succeeds so well in both performances that listeners may be a bit blasé about his playing, taking it in without really considering what knuckle-busters these pieces really are.