Paremski plays Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov
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Young Russian-American pianist Natasha Paremski performs two of the most iconic works ever composed for piano and orchestra. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by rising-star French conductor, Fabien Gabel, one of the most sought-after young conductors.
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The sound is very good. There is such a good working balance between the piano as soloist and the various instrumental departments of the orchestra that one gets all the charming touches that Tchaikovsky wrote into the music without slighting anyone. As it happens, this technicality is a grateful one since it so nicely matches what we get from Paremski, Gabel, and the RPO.
Tempos are relaxed. Nothing eccentric. Yet in this instance, relaxed does not mean, sleepy. Both Paremski and Gabel have a similar angle on the concerto, indebted to Tchaikovsky as the composer of the three Late Romantic period ballets. Color, charm, bel canto shaping of all the familiar concerto melodies .... one easily welcomes this reading as kin to all the Christmas season Nutcrackers at their festive bests, and then some. Equally welcome are the ways in which both Gabel and the RPO with Paremski pace and shape the more dramatic, virtuoso aspects of Tchaikovsky's style. Neither the orchestra nor the pianist are muscle-bound, but rather lean, balletic, and incredibly poised as various scenes come and go. When Paremski backs off in sections where others go full tilt with keyboard barnstorming, it is not just a trick to catch your attention, but part of a larger grasp on where the music has come from, and where the music will be going. Paremksi can conjure plenty of tonal presence from her piano when she needs to and when she wants to do so. Ditto for the orchestra, let loose in bright, theatrical fashion by Gabel. The slow middle movement has consistent flow, so it never seems bored with itself. And the last movements pyrotechnics, fireworks, and broad song are brought off so nicely that .... well .... I for one could understand anybody who immediately hit the start button to hear the whole concerto yet again.
But the Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody waits to be heard.
As it also happens, the characterful and songful approach Paremski/Gabel/RPO brought to the Tchaikovsky serves the rhapsody very well. The rapidly passing variations sections come and go, with both the orchestra and the piano getting their musical due, both separately and together. The ensemble of the RPO is clearly right on its toes, as those off-beat variations sparkle and catch all the right fire. The tempos are slightly less relaxed than was the case with our Tchaikovsky first concerto. Again nothing eccentric, and nothing sleepy either. The abundant touches of instrumental and keyboard effects that Rachmaninoff wrote into this rhapsody flood out in a disciplined yet delightful manner. One feels as you listen that everybody is enjoying themselves immensely in this music. But not at the expense of sloppiness on anybody's chosen instrument. There are one or two places where Paremski and company do something with the music that is very unusual and very much their own, though I will not say more for fear of spoiling the surprises. In those moments and in retrospect, I did not find those manners so outlandish that the magical spell of rhapsodical song-fantasy was broken or suspended. A sort of Straussian Till Eulenspiegel impish comes across just right, perhaps. The ensemble is not only very disciplined on all counts, but the players breathe together as if all were chamber music. Gabel and the orchestra take uncommon care to integrate their imaginative playing with the spontaneous yet un-self-conscious ebb and flow of the tempo that unites Paremski and everybody else in the same interpretive ethos. Oodles of color and charm are this reading's reasons for being.
I know we have just had a complete Rachmaninoff concerto set from Valentina Lisitska [ASIN:B00B2TTVNU Rachmaninoff: The Piano Concertos], but after hearing how well Paremski and her musical partners do on these two war-horse show pieces, I perversely find myself wishing they would record the rest of the Rachmaninoff, if not also have a go at the Tchaikovsky second that is rarely given its due (though the new recording from Matsuev/Gergiev/Mariinsky does sweep the board so far). Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2 I think the special imagination of the players in these two readings would do the other music proud.
I join other reviews in giving this disc Five Stars. One really should not rank imagination in music, but once you listen you will perhaps agree with us who were delighted and surprised.
Many of the biggest, most-popular piano concertos, the ones from Beethoven, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov, for instance, have a brawny quality about them that might at first blush seem best suited to a masculine performer. However, Martha Argerich among other female pianists pushed that idea aside long ago. I doubt that anyone could accuse Ms. Paremski of not being strong enough in her presentation, which gets off to a grand, bravura start and never lets up. As important, she is able to lend a poise and refinement to the softer moments, something lacking in many competing recordings.
Ms. Paremski handles the second-movement Andantino with a quiet grace and then in the finale goes out with a burst of passion and fire. It may not be the absolute most attention-getting performance ever committed to disc, but Ms. Paremski does everything right, everything one could ask of her in this music, without ever drawing attention to herself with any undue bravura despite her obvious virtuosic piano skills. The performance is fun, exciting, intense, Romantic, and well recorded.
Coupled to the Tchaikovsky we find the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943). Tchaikovsky predicted that Rachmaninov would be his logical successor, and surely Rachmaninov's symphonies and piano concertos, as well as the Rhapsody prove Tchaikovsky's prescience correct. Again, we find the Paremski, Gabel, RSO combo at the top of their game, producing an affectionate yet red-blooded account of the score. If anything, Ms. Paremski is even more joyously enthusiastic in the Rachmaninov than in the Tchaikovsky.
The sound is as big and bold as the music. There is a very wide frequency range involved and even wider dynamics. The perspective is somewhat close, yet it's also smooth and natural, with a fine sense of orchestral depth and bloom. Although the piano looms a bit large, to be sure, it also displays a sweet, resonant warmth.
John J. Puccio