Piano Concertos Nos 1-4; Paganini Rhapsody
Lukáš Vondráček (piano); Prague Symphony Orchestra/Tomas Brauner
Supraphon SU 43232 157:27 mins (2 discs)
With the Rachmaninov anniversary year very much upon us, we can expect to be inundated with new releases devoted to this composer. Whether or not any of them will make a lasting impression in an already crowded field is of course an open question. This is particularly the case with the four piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody, where we already have irreplaceable benchmark historic recordings from the composer, as well as superb modern cycles from the likes of Ashkenazy, Hough, Kocsis, Lugansky and Trifonov. But these performances, recorded during lockdown in Prague, prove to be every bit as exciting. Lukáš Vondráček’s complete empathy for Rachmaninov’s musical language is apparent from his blisteringly intense playing at the opening of the First Concerto. Employing the widest possible dynamic range, from the mysteriously quiet and tender melodic arabesques of the Second Concerto to the thundering power and weight of tone at the climax of the long cadenza to the first movement of the Third, Vondráček mesmerises the listener with charismatic interpretations that are mercifully free from sentimentality or exaggerated mannerisms.
As with the finest Rachmaninov interpreters, Vondráček brings a wealth of colour to the solo part, paying exemplary attention to highlighting polyphonically interesting inner parts in the composer’s sometimes texturally involved writing. Most importantly, he has a clear view of the emotional trajectory of each work, exploiting to the full its contrasting moods of melancholy, grotesquerie, nostalgia and exultation. The Prague Symphony Orchestra under Tomáš Brauner establish a formidable partnership with Vondráček, responding incisively to every twist and turn in his playing.