Yes, we need (yet) another Rachmaninoff recording
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Yes, we need (yet) another Rachmaninoff recording
Pianist Daniil Trifonov performs Scriabin with the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall in Manhattan Nov. 27, 2019. The young Russian pianist's new recording offers proof that new takes on standard repertory works are as essential as recordings of works by living composers and can enrich and enliven the art form. Caitlin Ochs/The New York Times.

by Anthony Tommasini

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- The standard repertory in classical music is often standard for good reason: Great works are gifts that keep on giving with repeated hearings.

But what about repeated recordings? It’s one thing to hear young pianists take on Rachmaninoff’s mighty Third Piano Concerto in concert, with its in-the-moment excitement. But do they really need to record it?

After all, the market is saturated with several dozen recordings. I grew up with Van Cliburn’s classic live one from Carnegie Hall, with Kirill Kondrashin conducting the Symphony of the Air, shortly after Cliburn had become an overnight superstar after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Just three years later, Byron Janis, another young American, recorded the concerto with Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra, a performance some Rachmaninoff devotees consider even better. And the exhilarating, exhausting discography piled up, with spectacular older accounts by Horowitz, Kapell, Argerich and others, and more recent ones by Leif Ove Andsnes and Evgeny Kissin. And don’t forget Rachmaninoff’s own recording!

This overload did not stop young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov from newly recording the piece with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. That release, on Deutsche Grammophon, completes Trifonov’s two-album survey of the four Rachmaninoff concertos.

And it’s splendid. His white-hot virtuosity is tempered by coolheaded thinking and lyrical sensitivity. Passages of teeming intensity are rendered with wondrous clarity and lightness. Yet, when appropriate, Trifonov shapes phrases and colors chords with milky richness. The third movement is crackling delight.

The recording offers proof that new takes on standard repertory works — if not as essential as recordings of works by living composers or of overlooked scores from the past — can enrich and enliven the art form. It’s empowering for performers and audiences alike to have recordings of these scores by artists we can hear today. In the flush of hearing Trifonov, you may well think: Who needs Horowitz?

Here are some other recent recordings of standard fare that merit attention and add to our understanding of the classics.

— Mozart Piano Concertos No. 17 in G and No. 24 in C Minor; Benjamin Hochman, pianist and conductor; English Chamber Orchestra (Avie)

Hochman, whose career as a pianist has been thriving, took time off recently to study conducting. It was time well spent. The stylistic insight, elegance and sparkle of Hochman’s pianism are beautifully matched by the playing of the orchestra. The finale of the Concerto in G, structured in theme and variations form, is exceptionally inventive: Each variation comes as a bit of a surprise.

— Brahms Violin Concerto and Ligeti’s Violin Concerto; Augustin Hadelich, violin; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Warner Classics)

For this album, the brilliant Hadelich pairs Brahms’ inescapable Violin Concerto in D with Ligeti’s mercurial and ingenious 1992 concerto. Yet in Hadelich’s lean, fervent account of the Brahms, that master emerges as a trailblazer, a precursor to Ligeti.

— Bruckner Symphony No. 7; Alan Gilbert, conductor; NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (Sony Classical)

This Hamburg orchestra recruited Gilbert, formerly the music director of the New York Philharmonic, as its chief conductor in part for his gift for adventurous programming, a natural fit with the ensemble’s new home, the boldly modern Elbphilharmonie. Yet last June, as his first season was about to begin, Gilbert recorded Bruckner’s sprawling Seventh Symphony, a towering work of the central European repertory, in a performance suitably majestic yet also bracingly direct and lucid. The orchestra plays with richness, warmth and confidence.

— Schubert Sonatas and Impromptus; Andras Schiff, piano (ECM New Series)

The masterful Schiff has already recorded Schubert’s complete sonatas and impromptus (and some of the works more than once). Yet on this new release, he plays two late sonatas and both sets of impromptus, on an 1820 Brodmann fortepiano, giving these works an historically authentic sound. The Impromptu in E flat from the D. 899 set, one of Schubert’s most played pieces, sounds fresh and graceful here.

— Elgar Cello Concerto; Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello; Simon Rattle, conductor; London Symphony Orchestra (Decca)

Kanneh-Mason, a fast-rising cellist who recently made an auspicious New York debut at Weill Recital Hall, joins the veteran Rattle in a youthful yet searching and intensely expressive account of Elgar’s challenging concerto, due for release later this month. The performance brings impressive urgency and sweep to the episodic final movement. Kanneh-Mason fills out the album with shorter works, including a couple of novelties. But his main statement comes through an undaunted performance of a staple that remains a summit for aspiring cellists.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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