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Vanessa Benelli Mosell, the Italian pianist born in 1987, has recorded works by her mentor Karlheinz Stockhausen (Decca 4812491) with conviction. However, the ghost of Sergei Rachmaninov, is not easily assuaged. Rachmaninov never recorded his Corelli Variations, of which he had mixed views, so his version does not stand as challenge or reproach to later pianists. Instead, Richard Farrell’s muted, restrained poignancy, Pietro Scarpini’s adamant dignity, Shura Cherkassky’s powerful emotional undercurrents, Igor Komarov’s nuanced sensitivity and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s haunting spaciousness serve as hallmarks. Mosell is winsomely wilting in the theme, while her first variation is suddenly no- nonsense, like a brisk nurse at a hospital. A lack of poetry is evident as she romps through the variations confidently, albeit without much emotional identification or affection.

In Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, the composer himself as soloist avoided sounding imposing or picturesque, like an aural postcard of Russianness. Worthy followers, including Benno Moiseiwitsch, Rosa Tamarkina, Simon Barere, Clifford Curzon, Eileen Joyce, Gary Graffman, Eugene Istomin, Grigory Sokolov, Zoltán Kocsis and Arcadi Volodos, made the work a perpetual discovery.

In the concerto’s opening, Mosell’s drooping chords turn self-consciously imposing and monumental, with a laboriousness far from Rachmaninov’s aesthetic as she strives mightily against trudge-through-the-mud tempos of Karabits, whose heavy-handed approach is less than ideally refined. Mosell is a very able pianist and gets through the score handily, with an especially sprightly final movement; but the work really requires more atmosphere and narrative communication.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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