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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  • Piano Concerto #3, Op. 30 in D minor *
  • Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
* Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano
ASO Media CD-1003
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In my review of Garrick Ohlsson playing this very work in Detroit (with Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony), I spoke of the pianist as a serious and seasoned artist who possesses neither the most beautiful tone nor the most Romantic of approaches. Those comments are upheld by this 2011 release on ASO Media, which pairs him with the superlative Robert Spano. The conductor is a man of wide musical sympathies, and proves a persuasive advocate for the composer in both works. The Atlanta Symphony is the orchestral jewel of the American South and stands tall in a supposedly second-tier group that includes Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

The Concerto is one of the most challenging in the active repertoire, but Ohlsson has few problems. I find him warmer and less matte-of-fact on disc than in concert, but he's still not going to thrill (or exasperate) you with dramatic pauses or giant swells of sound. In fact, his reading is somewhat lacking in dynamic range at times. That doesn't mean he's a banger; he does relish the emotional side as well as the technical. But he's not going to displace my favorite readings of the work, which range from Argerich to Horowitz. Still, he's very good and his accompaniment is outstanding. I really love the Atlanta Symphony's wholly musical contributions. I find the soloist well-balanced in a way that really does allow us to hear the orchestral parts. First-chair playing is especially brilliant, but the hushed strings and warm brass also deserve mention.

In the Symphonic Dances, Spano stands alone and turns in an excellent version of the work. While many armchair critics singled out the concerto as the standout item, I find myself appreciating this latter work more than they did. Tempos are more deliberate than one might expect, and perhaps there is less razzle-dazzle than some listeners tend to want. But there is so much to appreciate in what Spano has built in Atlanta, from the truly soaring string playing to the ideally flavorful wind playing. And there's a great range here, both dynamically and emotionally that proves very winning. The whole disc looks and sounds beautiful, and should be an easy call for fans of the composer.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman