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Rachmaninov’s Suite from the Violin Partita in E major (after J S Bach), familiarly known as Bachmaninoff, is doubtless the most delectable item in this new release. Unlike the dignified and formal interpretation of this work by the composer himself, Trifonov expresses light-hearted merriment, aptly bringing out coy, coquettish dance influences in movements entitled ‘Gigue’ and ‘Gavotte’. The nostalgic, flirty effect is akin to that of Monsieur Triquet, the elderly tutor in Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, who evokes 18th-century ways in a quaintly Russified style. To be sure, Rachmaninov was a devotee of the joys of pre-Revolutionary Russian society.

As for the rest of this CD, after Bachmaninoff, alas, comes the deluge. In Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto, Trifonov is tendentious, ineffectively counteracting orchestral playing that is limp, sugary ooze, like a slow eruption in a toffee factory. Nézet-Séguin flails about stylistically, as if he believed this music were by Saint-Saëns. It is poignant to compare the majesty of the Philadelphia Orchestra during the eras of Stokowski and Ormandy, with whom the composer recorded these concertos, to its reduced artistic impression today. Some orchestral passages which should bolster the pianist sound perfunctory, blunt and prosaic. All too often, the Second Concerto seems pettish, without any exaltation.

Even worse, the Fourth Concerto is lumbering and loud, conducted as if it were a crass item of Soviet realism. At sea, Trifonov sounds overstressed in the studio, possibly reacting to the crushing decibel count of the orchestra. His nimble fingers languish in the mudslide accompaniment. One day, Trifonov will surely have the opportunity to record these works again with a conductor and orchestra better suited to the idiom.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing