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Any new recording of Rachmaninov’s evergreen and omnipresent Second Concerto has to contend with 280 or so competitors listed on Presto Classical’s website. Most – even fine versions – are lost in the weft; even with the Naxos label this is one of 13 recordings in a variety of formats, including undeniably valuable historical issues.

Giltburg is a sensitive musician who constructs interesting programmes, as his previous issues of Rachmaninov and Shostakovich have shown. Staying within the Naxos stable for a moment, this new account of the concerto is the front-runner amongst their modern recordings, the sound richer than its predecessors and the performance more compelling. The main coupling of the Op 33 Études-tableaux (1911) provides a welcome contrast in texture and structure, and makes a very effective coupling in its own right.

Looking further afield, Giltburg’s performance of the concerto is considerably more convincing a representation of Rachmaninov’s intentions than Buniatishvili’s disappointing and overplayed Sony issue, though not perhaps quite measuring up to Tharaud or Hough. That said, after a slightly mannered opening, Giltburg’s account is successful on its own terms and the accompaniment from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is beautifully rendered.

Giltburg’s playing of the eight extant numbers of the Études-tableaux is a delight, not least for his inclusion of two of the pieces Rachmaninov unaccountably suppressed (Nos 3 and 5; No 4 was recomposed into the Op 39 set, so omitted here). The two arrangements make pleasant encores but are trifles. Naxos’ sound is excellent.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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