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Rachmaninoff Alexei Lubimov - pianist & fortepianist

Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme of Corelli (arr. Dumbraveanu); Piano Concerto 4 (revd version); Symphony 1

Alexei Lubimov piano
LPO/Neeme Järvi

This was a strange concert. Its triumphant centre was a masterly performance of the troubled 4th concerto in the truncated revised version (Rachmaninov/ff*, always one to lack confidence in himself, cut a couple of hundred bars in 1927 and 1941) that made one wonder what all the fuss had been about; better he'd have given the original version to a present day Rachmaninoff-sympathetic audience.

Alexander Lubimov (an all-rounder who was a Russian pioneer in the early instrument revival, having recorded all the Mozart sonatas c.1990) found an ideal sonority and combined perfectly with the orchestra; I'd never heard a more satisfactory and engrossing performance of romantic piano concerto in the Festival Hall. His tone was full, and well balanced even when playing with the orchestra.

A small figure at the keyboard, he has an admirable technique and found power without forcing or any visible effort. When I interviewed him in 2005, Lubimov told me that he believes fortepiano and Steinway have fertilised the development of his interpretations reciprocally.

The rest of the programme disappointed and, indeed, annoyed me. The Corelli Variations were aired in a miguided orchestration for a smallish orchestra by one Cornelius Dumbraveanu. It sounded like a student exercise, not really like Rachmaninoff's orchestral music, nor with the inspiration of a Ravel as orchestral arranger. There were some some bizarre spots for solos, e.g. a sort of cadenza for marimba. Järvi has recorded it, with other arrangements of Rachmaninoff; one to hear before purchase. (Listen to Vladimir Ashkenazy perform that intimate, late, dark work and, if it becomes available, his lecture/performance, shown recently on Sky Arts 2.)

After the interval we had the overblown, grandiose 1st Symphony (which once served on TV as the signature tune for Panorama) It gave Rachmaninoff a lot of trouble and grief and I hope never to have to endure it again. With so much wonderful music unheard in concert, I found myself thinking - whilst the LPO's six percussionists banged out the peroration - that it is a pity that Rachmaninoff hadn't simply withdrawn it...

Peter Grahame Woolf

see review of Lubimov on fortepiano with OAE earlier in the week, and in 1993 below

*For a more sympathetic view of Dumbraveanu & of Rachmaninoff's 1st see Classical Source.

Lubimov in London 1993 [Strictly Off the Record]