x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Leif Ove Andsnes tackles Rachmaninov

Andsnes tackles Rachmaninov's massive chords and rippling chromatic harmonies with deceptive ease.

Leif Ove Andsnes 

Rachmaninov Piano Concertos 3 & 4. Antonio Pappano (cond), London Symphony Orchestra (EMI) 

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Leif Ove Andsnes has always seemed a mild sort - a prodigiously talented pianist, of course, but with that characteristic Norwegian calmness. The black-and-white cover of his new recording of Rachmaninov's third and fourth piano concertos tells a different story, as he stares belligerently out, enveloped in a heavy black coat. 

That is, perhaps, more a reflection of the moody, uncomfortable fourth concerto, rarely performed, unfairly derided at the time of its first performance, and revised again and again before the final, fascinating 1941 version, played here. 

Composed while Rachmaninov was living in America, in exile from revolutionary Russia, it is notable for its percussive textures, fleeting themes and syncopated rhythms - often compared to the work of his contemporary Gershwin - and it is certainly very different from the better-known and fiendishly difficult third concerto (the work that notoriously defeated Geoffrey Rush's David Helfglott in the film Shine). 

Having previously recorded the first two piano concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra and Antonio Pappano, Andsnes seems perfectly at home with the same team on these works, tackling those massive chords and rippling chromatic harmonies with what sounds like (but surely can't be) ease. Where sometimes perhaps his jabbing staccato rhythms feel, for modern ears, a little harsh in the lyrical third concerto, and the rubato a touch too free in the fourth, it's certainly in keeping with Rachmaninov's own recorded performance style.

Also out in classical 

Nicola Benedetti Tchaikovsky/Bruch: Violin Concertos. Jakub Hrûsa (cond), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon) The Scottish violinist won the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, which resulted in a six-album deal. Here she abandons her slightly over-serious repertoire of Taverner, Macmillan and the like in favour of two of the violin canon's most loved works.

Jonas Kaufmann Verismo Arias. Antonio Pappano (cond), Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Decca) The handsome visage of the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann might just be enough to put more serious listeners off, but don't mistake this for the over-marketed crossover work of the likes of Il Divo or Andrea Bocelli. In his short career, Kaufmann has received critical acclaim in serious stage roles at Covent Garden and elsewhere, and here his lyrical phrasing is put to good use on an unusual selection of Italian arias.