RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18; Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 = Shura Cherkassky, piano/Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Comissiona (Op. 18)/Sten Frykberg (Op. 30)
Cembal d’amour CD 155, 76:44 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
The inimitable colorist of the keyboard Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) finds a new resource for his fascinating legacy in producer Mordecai Shehori’s Cembal d’amour label with two of Rachmaninov’s concertos captured from live concerts in Gothenburg, Sweden. Cherkassky made no commercial inscription of the C Minor Concerto, so the collaboration with Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005) proves especially welcome. Comissiona, a Silvestri student, thrived on making spectacular colors with his ensembles; and he was particularly proud of a recoding he made for Vox of the Schoenberg orchestration of the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet. In this C Minor Concerto (9 February 1970), the woodwinds and strings gain a fluid intensity that matches the restless chromatics Cherkassky applies to the piano part.
The warbles and whispers from the orchestra during the Adagio sostenuto prove particularly winsome. Cherkassky’s long line and canny pedaling prevent any sense of over-familiarity from settling upon the plangent figures, and the chamber music ambience provides a warm intimacy within a magical patina of sensuous sound. The knotty filigree of the middle section has the volatility of a toccata for keyboard and orchestra. The singing character of the piano bass line, the liquidity of the trills, and the finesse of the dynamic shadings combines in irresistible alchemy to refresh us with the world’s most “popular” concerto. Cherkassky’s coloring of the opening runs and octave shifts in the last movement present an object lesson in dynamic weight in order to create a varied palette. Typical of Cherkassky, he will toy with phrasing and rhythmic pulse in order to imbue a sense of novelty on old chestnuts. But few convey the piano’s singing tone and natural luminescence with the naïve authority Cherkassky possesses, the charm of limitless discovery and fascination with the music he champions.
The D Minor Concerto calls upon more colors–a subtler palette–than the C Minor Concerto, and Cherkassky and conductor Sten Frykberg (3 March 1968) collaborate seamlessly to produce a rendition that both seduces and overpowers us. Conductor Frykberg (1910-1983) led the Gothenburg Symphony 1960-1967 as its Principal, and he gained note as suave colorist in his own right. But don’t underestimate Cherkassky’s explosive and percussive power when the composer’s frenetic block chords call for fervent energy. Cherkassky takes the cadenza at a manic clip, a virtual toccata or study in elastic touches. The return of the orchestral winds and French horn has a sultry Eastern exoticism about it, certainly an erotic aura quite unforgettable. Spinning out of the grand trill, Cherkassky hurtles through three-hand effects in the Intermezzo movement, often invoking an epic breadth to the music, a gravitas and emotional urgency we rarely experience. The ungainly waltz that evolves cavorts, twists, and writhes with the elasticity of a musical larva inside a lyrical cocoon, pointed at a convulsion of nostalgia. Besides the stentorian outbursts of the Alla breve finale, the scintillating pearly play bespeaks a dazzling sense of digital control, abetted by canny pedal effects. The agogic fluctuations all proceed within a fixed, rigorous metric pulse, so the return of the opening movement’s motto seems a natural extension of all that came before. The last pages become somewhat frenetic, but the enraptured audience appears immune to anything mortal.