Was there ever a more grand and glorious Romantic composition than Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto? Well, that's a pretty subjective question, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the composer premiered it in 1901, at the very end of the Romantic era and on the cusp of the Modern age in music. On the present recording pianist Dong Hyek Lim, conductor Alexander Vedernikov, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra undertake the work in a performance both grand and Romantic. How well it stacks up against so many other great recordings is another matter.
South Korean pianist Dong Hyek Lim (b. 1984) studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover, received the Samsung Culture Scholarship and Ezoe Scholarships, and currently studies with Emanuel Ax at the Juilliard School. Like so many young, up-and-coming pianists, Lim has received many awards, won numerous competitions, performed with major orchestras all over the world, and recorded about a dozen record albums. So he has the credentials to take on Rachmaninov.
Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) premiered his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 after having undergone hypnotherapy for severe depression. Apparently, the perceived failure of his First Symphony so disturbed him that he feared he would never write another piece of music, so he decided he'd try anything. The hypnotherapy seemed to work as the Concerto No. 2 became an immediate success.
|Dong Hyek Lim|
So, in the end how does Lim's performance stack up against great recordings of the past, ones from Cliburn, Ashkenazy, Janis, Horowitz, Richter, Wild, even Rachmaninov himself? Here, things become a bit stickier here. I certainly enjoyed Lim's relaxed, easygoing, fairly engaging treatment of the score; yet I didn't think he displayed quite the Romantic sweep or intimate transparency of the leading recorded contenders in the work. Still, if you're a Lim fan or just want the luxury of a plush new digital recording, the disc should satisfy your wants.
As a coupling, the album features Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, the composer's final major work before his death, in Rachmaninov's own arrangement for two pianos. Here, Lim partners with one of the giants of the piano world, the Argentine virtuoso Martha Argerich. If you're familiar only with the orchestral version, this adaptation for piano may seem a bit underwhelming. However, in the hands of two such capable artists as Lim and Argerich, the power is still there, along with an added degree of sweetness and light. If you don't already have a favorite recording of the piano transcription, you might consider this album for that reason alone.
Producer John Fraser and engineer Phil Hobbs recorded the concerto at Maida Vale Studios, London in November 2018, and producer Fraser and engineer Arne Akselberg recorded the dances at Teldex Studio Berlin in December 2018. There's a wonderfully mellow ambient bloom to the piano in the concerto, as well as a huge dynamic range. The overall sound of the concerto is quite smooth, too, and only a tad soft. In any case. the big, warm, cushy sonics nicely complement the Romantic nature of the music. The two pianos in the Symphonic Dances share a similar recorded sound: big, fairly close, yet smooth and warm.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: