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Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 1 & 4, Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini / Ogawa, Hughes

Rachmaninov / Ogawa / Malmo Sym Orch Hughes
Release Date: 06/19/2012 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 975  
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Noriko Ogawa
Conductor:  Owain Arwel Hughes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



RACHMANINOFF Piano Concertos: No. 1; No. 4. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Noriko Ogawa (pn); Owain Arwel Hughes, cond; Malmö SO BIS CD-975 (81:46)


A bit of a mystery surrounds this release: recorded in 1998 and 2001, it is only now being issued (I write this late in 2012); BIS’s catalog number suggests that this completion of the Rachmaninoff piano-and-orchestra cycle was planned soon after Ogawa’s and Hughes’s recording of the Second and Third Concertos (CD-900, Read more reviewed enthusiastically by Lawrence A. Johnson way back in Fanfare 21:3). One can only surmise that, despite BIS’s (and Johnson’s) enthusiasm for its Japanese-English pianist, buyer response to the earlier CD did not promise robust sales of the current one. And that would be a shame, for this is really a very fine recording.


The First and Fourth Concertos have been perennial discmates since the days of LP, but they actually make an odd couple, the former’s adolescent extravagance clashing with the latter’s aphoristic weirdness. Speaking of which, don’t ever let anyone tell you that Rachmaninoff, the composer of The Isle of the Dead and other earnest—some would say lugubrious—works, didn’t have a sense of humor. Certainly the opening of the Fourth is a takeoff on the ending of the Third—same D-Major chord, same rising arpeggio—and, the very end of the work is a pun on Rachmainoff’s favorite concluding gesture: Bum–pa–Dum, only here the second chord is delayed by a sixteenth note, placing it on the beat rather than before: Bum–PA–dum. Of course, the most elaborate of Rachmaninoff’s musical jokes is the big piano cadenza preceding Variation 23 of the Paganini Rhapsody , landing emphatically on the dominant of A?-Minor and leading to a brief argument between piano and orchestra as to the proper key (the orchestra’s A Minor naturally winning out). The piano ending is another tongue-in-cheek gesture.


Pianist Noriko Ogawa has plenty of power for the big cadenza in the First Concerto, but also the requisite light touch in the third movement’s filigree. She and Hughes are especially cogent in the problematic Fourth, bringing to mind the outstanding Ashkenazy-Haitink version on Decca. In the Rhapsody , her playing is nuanced in the opening variations and her octaves thunderous in the cadenza. Hughes has less opportunity here than in the symphonies to indulge his preference for slow tempos, but there is a certain stodginess in some of the First Concerto’s tuttis, and the duration of all three works is longer than average. Overall the Swedish orchestra is responsive and rhythmically spot-on; only in the famous 18th Variation is the string section betrayed by its smallish size. BIS’s sonics are wonderfully transparent, highlighting the piano perhaps just a bit too prominently. And the duration given above for the disc is not a misprint: I believe this is now the second-longest CD I own, exceeded only by the first disc in BIS’s Sibelius Edition (82:27).


This disc joins the Entremont/Ormandy CD of the identical program and the two Ashkenazy cycles (and of course, the composer’s own recordings, in Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers for Naxos Historical) in my personal collection, and I’m tempted to pick up the earlier CD of the Second and Third. Ogawa’s playing here is not to be missed.


FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

1.
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op. 43 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Noriko Ogawa (Piano)
Conductor:  Owain Arwel Hughes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1934; USA 
Date of Recording: 1998 
2.
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G minor, Op. 40 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Noriko Ogawa (Piano)
Conductor:  Owain Arwel Hughes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926/1941; USA 
Date of Recording: 1998 
3.
Concerto for Piano no 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Noriko Ogawa (Piano)
Conductor:  Owain Arwel Hughes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891/1917; Russia 
Date of Recording: 2001 

Sound Samples

Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1: I. Vivace
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1: II. Andante
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1: III. Allegro vivace
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40: I. Allegro
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40: II. Largo
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40: III. Allegro vivace
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Introduction: Allegro vivace
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 1: Precedente
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Theme: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 2: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 3: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 4: Piu vivo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 5: Tempo precedente
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 6: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 7: Meno mosso, a tempo moderato
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 8: Tempo I
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 9: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 10: Poco marcato
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 11: Moderato
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 12: Tempo di minuetto
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 13: Allegro
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 14: L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 15: Piu vivo scherzando
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 16. Allegretto
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 17: (Allegretto)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 18: Andante cantabile
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 19: A tempo vivace
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 20: Un poco piu vivo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 21: Un poco piu vivo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 22: Un poco piu vivo (Alla breve)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 23. L'istesso tempo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 24: A tempo un poco meno mosso

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