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Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 4 Op. 40 (Original 1926 version) / Scriabin: Prometheus
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In Moscow, in the years before World War I and the Russian revolution, there were two opposing, and apparently irreconcilable, musical factions. Rachmaninov was given the title of pianist of the bourgeoisie, while leftist students and theosophical movements championed Scriabin. The former was considered the successor to Tchaïkovsky, the latter, too avant-gardist. Fortunately, these squabbles in no way affected the friendship between the two composers. After Scriabin’s death in 1915, Rachmaninov played his works during a tour of major provincial towns as a way of financially assisting his widow, who was threatened with expulsion. Each in his own way, these two artists rejected the dictums of romanticism and embraced modernity, and this recording serves as a sort of bridge between them. Its two colossal works place orchestra, conductor and soloist on equal footings; and both require a meticulous reading of the score, a thorough understanding of its architecture, and flawless rhythmic precision: the original version of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Scriabin’sPrometheus: The Poem of Fire.
À Moscou, à l'aube de la première guerre mondiale et de la révolution russe, deux factions musicales s'opposaient, en apparence irréconciliables. Rachmaninov se voyait attribuer le titre de pianiste de la bourgeoisie, pendant qu'étudiants de gauche et mouvements théosophiques portaient Scriabine aux nues. On considérait le premier héritier de Tchaïkovski, le second trop avant-gardiste. Pont entre ces artistes qui, chacun à leur manière, ont repoussé les diktats du romantisme et plongé dans la modernité. Le présent enregistrement propose deux pages colossales, mettant en valeur de façon indissociable, orchestre, chef et soliste, qui exigent lecture méticuleuse, compréhension de l'architecture et précision rythmique sans faille : le Quatrième Concerto pour piano de Rachmaninov dans sa version originale et Prométhée ou le poème de feu de Scriabine.
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In addition, the fourth concerto offers choices between its original and composer-revised editions. The original edition has gotten some more recent attention, from Vladimir Ashkenazy as conductor with Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 1 & 4 (Original Versions) Alexander Ghindin at the keyboard. And now, Candian artist Lefevre.
What Lefevre brings to this work is a refine but powerful physicality that digs into the original keyboard writing with gusto. The orchestra is on board, too, offering up plenty of tonal and rhythmic power, along with an almost exquisite tonal refinement in all departments. I suppose it can still be argued that the composer was up to something good, by later cutting out and streamlining the through-lines of the concerto, but this original has its own spells to conjure, and so should be played in live concerts more often. I suspect that the original version flowed out too well from the composer's own magisterial piano technique, so that the revised version pulls back on at least some of the very constant, busy piano work that was included in the original. Alain Lefevre can get as muscular as ever needed without losing his persuasive sense of musical fire and nuance. This reading reaches high, perhaps even high enough to be friends with Michelangeli's legendary reading on (formerly EMI, now ...) Warner.
The Scriabin late tone poem, Prometheus (Poem of Fire), takes on its familiar chromatic identity as played by the Montreal outfit, and gains especially nuanced yet vivid color with fluid lava flows, again blessed with Alain Lefevre at the keyboard. One suddenly wishes at least two things. First, that Alain Lefevre and Montreal would do the rest of the Rachmaninoff piano concertos plus the rhapsody. Second, that Montreal and their Music Director (Kent Nagano) would do the rest of the Scriabin symphonies.