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TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1; RACHMANINOV: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – Natasha Paremski, p./ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Fabien Gabel/ Royal Philharmonic Orch. – RPO

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23; RACHMANINOV: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 – Natasha Paremski, p./ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Fabien Gabel/ Royal Philharmonic Orch. – RPO SP 044, 59:18 (10/29/13) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

The twenty-six-year-old Natasha Paremski, having been born in Moscow, takes on a pair of eminently Russian staples in the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor Concerto and Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody. Paremski and conductor Gabel play with the ardor of youthful enthusiasm, and the performances communicate sincerity, if not girth. For the massive approach, I am not about to deny or denigrate my old Richter/Karajan performance from Vienna or the live Horowitz/Szell performance with the New York Philharmonic.

The lyric impulse in Paremski certainly dominates – as in the dialogues of piano and flute and piano and French horn in the development section – while the crescendos and fortes of the orchestra seem relatively restrained despite their fervor. Tchaikovsky took much of formal structure – excepting the opening materials, which serve merely as an introduction without development – from Schumann, with his tendency to repeat each melodic phrase length twice.  Paremski has no difficulties with the sheer digital aspects of the score, its double octaves and breathless runs. Her goal appears to have been to remain intimately introspective and musing, rather than shattering and meteoric. She and Gabel mold the phrases, make them sing, apply catch-in-the-breath luftpausen, and complement each other in the evolution of Tchaikovsky’s grand rhetoric. Her cadenza can sing and purr, alla musette, or grumble and leap urgently, as required. Those apt to compare Paremski with the young version of colorist Martha Argerich may have a point. While the balletic second movement Andantino moves sweetly, accentuating the fine colors from cello, flute, and piano, the last movement certainly makes affectionate fire, although Paremski’s velocities may appear more tamed and refined than those of Herculeans Richter, Horowitz, and Cherkassky. The Royal Philharmonic provides a delectable array of colors, bright and transparent, well at ease with the dancing and often whirling sentiments the Concerto projects that often assume magisterial, even torrential proportions.

The 1934 Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody hardly requires another formal assessment. I first heard it with Artur Rubinstein and Fritz Reiner – admittedly, an often problematic performance – and Paremski well competes with that athletic version without the “taint” of conflicting personalities.  The colors of the Paremski rendition prove quite lavish and lush, especially after Variation XII, the Dies Irae having been incorporated into the mix, and the erotic elements – of a virtual slow middle movement – having begun to compete with the intimations of mortality. Some nice work spins forth from oboe, the concertmaster’s violin, and the French horn. Paremski and Gabel achieve a well-spun momentum as they move ineluctably to the grand climax of Variation XVIII in D-flat Major, the brilliant inversion of the Paganini Caprice as a fervent love song. Here, I still cherish Mr. Kapell and the aforementioned Fritz Reiner.  The Paremski, nevertheless, abounds in the delight of colorful details, the juxtaposition of effects, often suddenly intrusive and colliding with one another. We can feel a palpable virtuosity in Variations XIX-XXIV, a sense of the demonic impulse that surrounded the very legend of Paganini. If Paremski persists in this kind of music-making, she may become one of the great ones.

—Gary Lemco

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