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CD of the Week – Rachmaninov’s 5th Piano Concerto

By (May 2, 2012) No Comment

Rachmaninov’s “5th” piano concerto
Deutsche Grammophon

So unflagging is the appeal of Sergei Rachmaninov that his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, will suffer a real dip when his music goes out of copyright in 2013, 70 years after his death. One way of extending it is to create new copyrights, which is what composer Alexander Warenberg has done. At the request of Rachmaninov’s grandson, Warenberg added a piano part to the second symphony, compressed two movements into one and called it a fifth piano concerto.

Several players have launched the work on video, including Denis Matsuev and Valentina Lisitsa. This, I believe, is its first major-label audio recording. I visited the Abbey Road sessions in February and was impressed by the cohesion of the piece. More remarkable still is the speed of release – two months from studio session to shops must be some kind of a record even for a night-owl producer like Michael Fine. The sound is immaculate and the London Symphony Orchestra, under Michael Francis, are on good weekday form, the woodwinds especially so.

The Korean soloist Julius-Jeongwon Kim is a tad hesitant and heavy in some entries, overwhelmed perhaps by the responsibility of introducing a piano where no piano was meant to go. But he has technique to spare and finds his high moments in roller-coaster riffs and dashes. The middle movement opens with one of Rachmaninov’s mst famous tunes and is, as ever, irresistible. The LSO clarinet (I can’t remember who it was) deserves an OBE in the next Queen’s Honours List. The companion work is Shostakovich’s second concerto, easy on the fingers, competently done.

3 song CDs

Walter Arlen: Es geht wohl anders

Exiled from Vienna in 1939, aged 18, Arlen spent much of his career as a music critic on the Los Angeles Times. His songs, beautifully rendered by Rebecca Nelsen and Christian Immler (Danny Driver, piano), feel as if time stopped just before his flight. Tonal to a fault and meticulous in their attention to word colour, they set a range of texts from the Bible to Czeslaw Milosz in a gentle, regretful way. At times, you wish Arlen might have permitted himself a little rage.

Serious Cabaret

Mary Carewe crosses songs from Weimar Germany (Weill, Spoliansky, Hollaeder) with post-War America (Barber, Bowles, Bliztstein, Bolcom). The hybrid would probably work better in concert than it does on record and the two bookend arias – James Bond and Lionel Bart – undermine the concept. The singing, though, is terrific; Philip Mayers accompanies.

Mercy and Grand: The Music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan
GB Records

The composer Gavin Bryars has arranged and produced an album of American oddities by a songwriting couple who are a category to themselves. Three or four songs are unforgettable; others sound like Weill, Lehrer and Irish balladry all mixed in a stew. Jess Walker is the intrepid vocalist.

Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.