A Review of a VERY BIG Rach2 by Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin – Stunning

Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’m a big fan of both artists (e.g. see here for my review their previous Rachmaninov album, or here for a report my recent experience of Nézet-Séguin live, or just use the search function).

Trifonov is without doubt one of the best pianists of our age, and I start to regret not having included him in my list of my Top 10 classical pianists, maybe that blog post needs an update at some point. And Nézet-Séguin is on his path to be one of the truly great conductors of the 21st century.

So when I saw they just released the legendary Rach 2 together, I bought the album immediately.

Destination Rachmaninov: Departure. Piano concertos No. 2 & 4 – Daniil Trifonov – Yannick Nézet-Séguin – The Philadelphia Orchestra

Daniil Trifonov Yannick Nézet-Séguin The Philadelphia Orchestra Destination Rachmaninov - Departure Deutsche Grammophon 2018 24/96

There is no lack of great recordings of Rach2. Andsnes, Zimerman, Buniatishvili (although this recording is bit controversial), not to mention the greats like Richter, or even the composer himself.

How to play this piece? Do you try to keep it more factual, or do you go with the full romantic power of the piece?

Some lessons can be taken from the recording of Rachmaninov with Leopold Stokowski, featuring the very same Philadelphia Orchestra than the current recording. And one thing is clear, already at the time (1924), they went BIG. A lot of power, a lot of rubato, a lot of everything. And guess what, that works! (well the composer should know, you’d presume)

Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin take a very big approach here. You can really float in the big sound of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and soloist and conductor clearly connect. Trifonov clearly is a virtuoso of the highest caliber, so the technical challenges of this massive work just go unnoticed.

Overall, there is a lot of rubato, and the tempo is relatively slow. In some of the slower passages, one even gets reminder of a Bruckner symphony.

Some would argue this is too much. I haven’t seen many reviews yet, but I predict this recording will be a love it or hate it affair.

To make it clear: I love it!

You also get concerto no. 4, but to this day, I’m like quite a large majority of music lovers, I love nos. 2 and 3, and just don’t get 4. So no comment from my side.

What you do get on top is much more interesting, at least to me. Rachmaninov did his transcription of the Violin Partita BWV 1006, a true gem, that I should probably add to my blog post on transcriptions of the Chaconne. Very much worth discovering.

I’m kind of curious about the album title, Departure, and am really wondering where this train takes us next. Let’s hope to an equally spectacular Rach 3!

My rating: 5 stars.

I’m curious to see if my prediction holds true, and there will be both raving and bad reviews of this. I’ll report back when I see them. In the meantime, try before you buy!

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Prostudiomasters)

UPDATE Oct 30: Well, my prediction of this being a very controversial album already holds true. Check out the comments of my readers below, and you’ll find both love and hate.

In terms of professional reviews, we generally are very positive so far, with four stars from Richard Fairman in the FT, five stars by Andrew Clements in the Guardian, another five stars by Normal Lebrecht. I’m still curious what Gramophone and Classica will think of this.

In any case, try before you buy!

Update March 2, 2019: Classica agrees, and gives this album a “CHOC”, their highest rating. Whereas Gramophone is much less impressed “Overall, this is another fine, well-recorded addition to the lengthy discography but one which neither astonished nor moved me.”

So my prediction that this would be a love it or hate it affair, I was spot on. I still like it very much.

Author: Musicophile

I'm not a professional musician, I don't work in the music industry, I'm just what the name says, somebody who loves music. I've been in love with music for all of my life, took piano lessons for nearly 10 years, and played in several amateur Jazz groups. I go to concerts, both classical and Jazz, quite regularly. And I collect music previously on vinyl and CDs, now on my computer, and am slightly OCD on my music collection. You can reach me at Musicophile1(AT)gmail.com

16 thoughts on “A Review of a VERY BIG Rach2 by Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin – Stunning”

  1. Like you I’m a big fan of both pianist and conductor… and I hated this trainwreck. Loud (on top of loud), brash, cluttered, entirely bereft of beauty and grace. All the phrasing was utterly wrong for me. So mechanical. And yet slow!

    Contrast with the Rach 2 of Khatia Buniatishvili and Paavo Järvi (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) for a modern recording I much prefer. It’s just so much more musical, dynamic, and clear… to my ears at least.

    [By the way, if you’re seeking polarizing records… try Hilary Hahn’s new solo Bach album. One could write volumes about it.]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback. That’s exactly what I expected. You either love it or hate it. I understand all your individual points, but to me the overall result just works.

      By the way; I also quite like Buniatishvili’s much faster recent recording (although that one also got some very mixed reviews, have you seen Granophone’s?). Paavo is clearly the best of the Järvis.

      I guess ultimately this shows that it boils down to personal taste after all.

      And yes I tried Hahn’s bee Bach Gave up after 1:30. How can one still use that much vibrato in 2017 40 years after the beginning of HIP movement? Either old school Milstein/Szeryng or HIP Faust for me.


      1. Agreed, it’s all personal preference after a certain point. I did quite enjoy their Rhapsody so I was surprised this was so far off for me. It’ll be interesting to see what the intelligentsia have to say about this one. Anyway I certainly hope they continue to record together!

        As for Hilary Hahn’s new Bach, it’s like a Glenn Gould interpretation for violin. There are moments of genius past 1:30, and also passages that don’t work for me at all. I appreciate her effort to do something quite original. Results aside, I was (and continue to be) awestruck by how much tonal color can be produced by her hands and a brilliant recording engineer. The sonics are glorious.

        Thank you for passionately reviewing this new Rachmaninov! (Though you might have gone easy on his Bach–there should be at least a little Baroque in it, no?) Hopefully we’ll soon get your take on Igor Levit’s Life. It’s special to say the least.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ok, I’ll give Hahn another go. On the Trifonov, the only review I found was Norman Lebrecht who also really really liked it.

        On Levit, I’ve had the album for some days now and have played it quite some times. A review is definitely coming. It is just really “weird” material, so much harder to make up my mind.


      3. That’s fascinating–Levit is my record of the year, easily. It’s a jazz spirit haunting a classical program. Such nuanced and beautiful expression. He is on another level entirely.

        Your reviews are always wonderfully well-considered so I look forward to your take.

        (Second place is Sakari Oramo’s Langgaard Symphonies with the VPO, definitely check that out.)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I share more or less the same views with Ken. When I reviewed Buniatishvili’s CD I was ecstatic. I find it among the best digital renditions. As for the Trifonov recording, I also found it disappointing. Even though I like slow performances of this concerto, I found a lot of detail was missing here. Trifonov’s touch is usually light but the recorded sound here doesn’t help and, as I state in my review, it is inaudible at some points. And while the orchestral contribution is very clear, I think Rachmaninov needs a darker sound. It is really a shame because I had been eagerly anticipating this release. I hope the recording of the 3rd will be more rewarded when it’s released.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting, and thanks for your feedback. At least I got my prediction right that this recording would be polarizing. I just saw a review by Richard Fairman for the FT, giving it four stars. So it truly is a love it or hate it affair.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was surprised to see DG release two recordings of Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Bach violin partita in such a short window. You not only have Trifonov’s but also Vikingur Olafssohn’s. I’ve really fallen in love with Olafssohn’s Bach album.

    Liked by 2 people

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