Winning first prize at the 1989 Van Cliburn Competition, Alexei Sultanov enjoyed a meteoric rise of epic proportions, with a major recording contract, Carnegie Hall recital, American and European tours, and TV appearances with Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and other notables. But Sultanov's star soon fell to Earth as critics would often characterize his bold style in unflattering terms, finding his interpretive manner feral and superficial, and his herculean fortes ostentatious: he broke a string during a performance of the Liszt First Mephisto Waltz at the Cliburn Competition. But the youthful pianist's health soon proved a more formidable opponent than any critic's pen, as a series of strokes sabotaged his career, eventually leaving him paralyzed on his left side after 2001. Though he died at 35, Sultanov left a memorable though controversial legacy. His Prokofiev, Chopin, Rachmaninov, and Scriabin could rivet the listener, while his Beethoven and Mozart might have been less consistently engaging. His recordings, mostly available from Warner Classics, document the enormous talent of this imaginative performer, a pianist unafraid to take interpretive chances.
This release by Leif Ove Andsnes was anxiously awaited by both fans and EMI executives after the pop sales levels achieved by his album featuring the first two Rachmaninov concertos, and it seems likely that the Norwegian pianist will once again serve those who stand and wait. He has executed the undeniably neat trick of breathing new life into some of the most stolidly ensconced works of the piano concerto repertory, draining them of Russian sentiment and replacing those vital fluids with stunning technical mastery delivered at breakneck speed (especially in the outer movements of the Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30), and with a sort of hard edge.
The complete Works for Piano and Orchestra, with Rafael Orozco playing the extraordinarily demanding piano score, which Serge; with his huge, slender, nimble fingers tended to compose to impress people and make many back away, is more than merely admirable when combined with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the Direction of Edo De Waart.
As everyone with a thesaurus knows, urgency rhymes with emergency. And these performances of Rachmaninov's works for piano and orchestra by Stephen Hough with Andrew Litton leading the Dallas Symphony are nothing if they are not urgent. Hough's tempos are quick and strong and vital, with plenty of rubato and lots of accelerando. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that.
The Mariinsky Orchestra recordings with Denis Matsuev, "the Siberian bear with the fastest paws in the Arctic," have all offered classic Russian virtuosity at its best. This one, containing three distinctly high-spirited works, makes a great place to start with the series, and it's hard to imagine the listener who wouldn't succumb to its charms.
In what used to be called the West, Sviatoslav Richter's best-known and best-loved recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto was the 1962 recording on Deutsche Grammophon with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Symphony. In what used to be called the East, Richter's best-known and best-loved recording of Tchaikovsky's First was this 1958 recording on Melodiya with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Rachmaninov's opus 1, his first piano concerto, deserves to be heard more often. The opening bars have that heroic sound that raises the hair on the back of the neck. Indeed those first moments rank alongside those of the Grieg and Tchaikovsky piano concertos for their ability to thrill. Ashkenazy's breathtaking playing on a superb piano is matched by that of the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Haitink's direction.
The outstanding young German pianist Joseph Moog makes his debut on ONYX with a superb disc of two great Russian piano concertos that have had very different fates. Anton Rubinstein s 4th was once one of the most famous and popular concertos in the repertoire, and many of the major virtuosos performed this work into the early years of the 20th century when the composer s other works vanished from the concert hall.