February 1, 2017

Classics Today

David Hurwitz

Andrew von Oeyen plays [Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto] with virtuoso relish and an equal feeling of proprietary gusto.

Here’s a very enjoyable disc of piano and orchestra chestnuts, with a difference. Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody in fact hasn’t quite reached “chestnut” status. It’s more like a filbert or a pistachio, and it makes a hugely welcome change from the otherwise obligatory Rhapsody in Blue or Concerto in F, especially when it’s as well performed as it is in this cogent, sassy, impulsive performance. You’ll wonder why it isn’t better known.

Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto used to be vastly more frequently heard than it is today. I can’t account for the decline in popularity, for it is in every way a delightful work. Artur Rubinstein came as close to owning it as anyone can, but Andrew von Oeyen plays it with virtuoso relish and an equal feeling of proprietary gusto. He understands how to give the central scherzo’s “big tune” the right rhythmic lift, and attacks the finale at a daring tempo that courts disaster, only to emerge triumphant. If you scoff at the piece, give this performance a try. It may change your mind.

As for the Ravel Concerto in G, this may perhaps be the weakest performance of the three, if only because the Prague Philharmonia isn’t as brilliant as it could be, and I do wish that Oeyen had kept his initial entrance more in tempo, as Ravel’s score suggests. Still, the soulful second movement goes really beautifully, and once again the finale dazzles, as it must. The encore, a piano transcription of the Meditation from Thaïs, has charm, but fluff is as fluff sounds. A bracing and wholly enjoyable disc

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