Krystian Zimerman (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa (conductor)
Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 (Rachmaninov)
DG 459 643-2
reviewed by Neville Cohn
In an interview a while back, Krystian Zimerman mentioned that he’d played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 as a teenager, while a student at the music school in Katowice, Poland.
Zimerman says he presented the Concerto No 1 as part of his diploma examination and feels particularly close to it as this same concerto was Rachmaninov’s own diploma piece in the eminent composer’s student days. Both concertos have been a major part of Zimerman’s life ever since.
In an astonishing account of the first concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his playing has a freshness and vitality that make one feel that he’s essaying the work for the very first time. There’s not a hint here of familiarity breeding indifference. In fact, there’s an exultant quality about his interpretation, a joyous coming-to-grips with the concerto that sweeps all before it.
Incidentally, I would caution against listening to this recording late at night; its electrifying virtuosity is bound to quicken the pulse, inflame the imagination and keep you wide awake for hours, hardly a recommended state
of affairs when preparing to sink into the arms of Morpheus.
I listened in wonder to the speed and brilliance with which Zimerman makes his way through one of the most
treacherously difficult musical obstacle courses imaginable – and emerging at the end with honour intact; it’s a remarkable feat of musicianship.
As is well known, Rachmaninov very seldom smiled, the spin-off of chronic, low-level depression. But if anything would have been likely to prompt a beam on the famously dour face, it would be Zimerman’s account of the concerto. It is in the best sense exhilarating, not least in the surging climaxes that dot the score.
But there’s far more to Zimerman’s playing than virtuosity, admirable though it is. Listen to the slow movement, where soloist and orchestra (under the impeccable guidance of Seiji Ozawa) seem to draw inspiration from each other with phrasing that is as natural and unforced as the breathing of a great singer.
For sheer bravura, Zimerman’s playing scales Olympus with its fantastic digital agility, clarity and accuracy at top speed; it borders on the incredible.
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 is given an unusually slow introduction, the famous dark, deep-bass chords on the piano drawing us ineluctably into Rachmaninov’s instantly identifiable sound and mood universe. Throughout, Zimerman and Ozawa give us a far more thoughtfully probing account of the work than is usually the case. And here, as in the first concerto, Zimerman’s amazing physical control of the piano allows him the freedom to explore the interpretative possibilities of whatever he happens to be essaying. The end result is utterly satisfying.
The sound engineers are beyond reproach in the first concerto, allowing the exquisitely even tonal sheen of the violins to be heard to finest advantage although in the second concerto there is occasional dryness of string tone.
Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn