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Blu-ray Review

Yuri Temirkanov Conducts

* Denis Matsuev, piano
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
Recorded live from the Annecy Classic Festival, 2013
Idéale Audience Blu-ray 2075064 150m PCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
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Also available on DVD 2075068:
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What is a little odd about this Blu-ray release is the cover: take note that it only lists two of the seven works contained on the disc. While several of the unmentioned compositions are short, the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances is a major work lasting well over a half hour. I guess Idéale Audience prefers to be modest in their marketing practices. That is admirable considering the fact you get nearly two-and-a-half hours' worth of fine music-making on this disc, thus making it a rare bargain.

Denis Matsuev's Rachmaninov Second is a powerful and strongly spirited rendition that one can only praise. Though briskly paced for the most part, Matsuev catches the lush lyricism with great sensitivity in all three movements. He imparts a kinetic sense to the livelier music in the outer movements as well, ultimately turning in one of the more memorable versions of this concerto in recent times, not least because of excellent support from Temirkanov and the splendid St. Petersburg Philharmonic. There are so many excellent Rachmaninov Seconds that it's hard to cite favorite versions. I've reviewed several here, including the Lisitsa (Decca 4784890), Nebolsin (Naxos DVD 2.110284), Scherbakov (Naxos DVD-A 5.110013), and Volkov (Brioso BR114). If one has to make recommendations, I would say Lisitsa and Matsuev among recent performances are probably to be preferred, and among older ones it's still hard to beat Rubinstein (with Reiner). So Matsuev is a fine choice, and probably the top selection among video performances. The two Rachmaninov encores are brilliantly played – this is obviously music that Matsuev has flowing in his blood.

The Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances comes across splendidly as well. It opens with those emphatic rhythms seething with drama and the terse main theme dancing about elegantly. The middle section is lovely, with that forlorn theme soaring mesmerically to the heavens. The ensuing two movements are just as convincing, though the finale, good as it is, might have benefitted from a more powerful, more wanton ending. The Slatkin effort on Naxos (Naxos 8.573051) may be marginally preferable, but in the video realm, this Temirkanov reading may well sweep the competition.

As for Schéhérazade Temirkanov's performance is also quite excellent and might well be the top choice on video as well. It features fine playing in all four movements by the St. Petersburg players, with especially fine violin solos by the unidentified principal violin. (Alexander Shustin is the concertmaster, or co-concertmaster but this violinist appears to be someone else.) At any rate this is a virtuosically played, quite convincing rendition that may not quite erase memories of the classic 1960 Reiner/Chicago Symphony effort, but is nonetheless very fine. Temirkanov elicits all sorts of nuancing and gradations in dynamics from the players, capturing all the Middle-Eastern exoticisms and driving rhythms in brilliantly colorful playing, ultimately carving out a highly charged and subtly atmospheric rendition of this warhorse. I thought the third movement, The Young Prince and the Young Princess, was among the finest versions I've ever heard, but the rest of the performance was hardly less convincing. Rimsky was a great orchestrator and this video allows you, via the deftly managed camera work, to see how he achieves those beguiling sounds.

The two short orchestral works get fine performances as well: the Elgar is lovely in its innocence and brevity, while the Verdi is appropriately more dramatic in its harried and foreboding character. As suggested, the camera work is fine throughout and the sound reproduction is excellent. In sum, this is a disc offering marvelous live performances from the 2013 Annecy Classic Festival, a summer event located in South Eastern France. Well worth your attention.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings

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