Is there really room for yet another recording of these two Rachmaninov warhorses? For Yuja, yes. Her playing is fresh and wondrously alive, in both pieces. And Claudio Abbado’s conducting is astonishing, delineated with absolute chamber-like clarity. Wang combines strength and delicacy, but most appealing in her playing is her sharp articulation of phrasing and that indefinable stamp of pianistic authority.
In the Rhapsody the famous 18th variation has all the limpid beauty it demands, and the 24th accentuates the fantastical, swaggering pseudo-Orientalism of its finale. Her final dying notes have all the wry sarcasm which so cleverly and affectionately mocks all that has gone before, delivered with an offhand grace I’ve seldom heard before. It’s totally delicious stuff. And the Second, deservedly the most famous of Rachmaninov’s concertos, is played with a poise and steel which totally belies the impish pianist’s image on the CD cover.
These special readings seem to come from live performances – the Concerto gives this away with a snatch of applause at the end, but there is no other indication of this. The sound quality is as detailed as the finest studio recording; both the piano and orchestra are caught in awesome fidelity. This release is a must, whether it be your first or 21st recording of these pieces.