Music Reviews

Anna Fedorova – ‘Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3’

She steals your heart, your soul, and stays forever in your mind

I wouldn’t be honest in saying that there are no other great recordings of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, but this is the only one that managed to steal my heart and my soul so profoundly that it will stay forever in my mind. Why? I suppose it is the enchanting resolve that Anna Fedorova radiates. Her command of Rachmaninoff’s legacy is incomparable in the way she combines poetry, virtuosity, and compassion. With this third and final release, covering all four piano concerti and the Paganini Variations, she demonstrates that the previous two were not just lucky shots. Her sensitive, yet authoritative readings reach far beyond the score. 

I’m not short of Rach 3 recordings in my library. Some very impressive indeed. Rachmaninoff once said about contemporary composers: They “think rather than feel”. A firm statement. How did he see his Third? There is a 1939/40 recording of him playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. It lasts a mere 30 plus minutes (agreed: cuts included). Considering his remark about thinking rather than feeling, one wonders if he was afraid to show his feelings, or was just trying to impress the audience. Will we ever know for sure? Some like it that way, though. Vladimir Horowitz being one of them. 

With many interpretations played with the head rather than the soul, this concerto has become a warhorse for international piano contests. It is difficult, feels better under the hands than the second, and it sounds Grand. That’s probably why it is widely believed that that is the way it should be played. The more impressive the reading the better. Martha Argerich’s is a good example. Technical perfection garnered her many accolades and followers. And Denis Matsuev, too, knows how to bring it home. He was in Paris a couple of years ago. Razor sharp. A hero of an often uncompromising Russian School. Awesome to listen to. But freed from the thrill of the concert, it risks dripping down like cold rain from your waxed overcoat. 

But there are other approaches to choose from, where the soul wins from the head.

The magic of interpretation

Till now, one of my favourites was Evgeny Kissin. He still is, but no longer the sole preferred one. Fedorova has joined my list of unforgettable interpreters, displaying a style that is as impressive as it is deeply moving, adding that extra that makes it stand out from the crowd. Where Rachmaninoff may have felt compelled to show more head than soul, Fedorova sets the record straight. And it isn’t the first time that an artist gets more out of a composition than the composer thought he had put into it. The more complex the score the deeper an artist can delve into it. This is the magic of interpretation. Drawing out unexpected elements, colouring shapes, Fedorova brings an audience and people like me under her inescapable spell.

But there is something else that makes this new release so preciously wonderful: There are no ‘egos’ on stage. There is an inspiring artist at the grand with a spiritually driven bond to a receptive conductor who in turn passes the emotion on to the members of the orchestra. The result is a sense of purposeful solidarity.

Conductor Modestas Pitrenas

The players of the Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen may not have the same professional status as, say, the members of the Berlin Philharmonic, but are, by the sound of it, nonetheless equally committed to The Art. Had I been a member of the orchestra, I’d be thoroughly proud of the result.  

Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen and conductor Modestas Pitrenas

What about the frugal music lover?

Downloads have no limit, but in the physical product domain, some always complain that leftover space had not been used for something extra. Depending on what it is, it may or may not be felt as disturbing. In this case, I think it is justified that Channel Classics pleases frugal music lovers by adding Rachmaninoff’s Youth Symphony in D minor. A respectable ‘filler’ by which the orchestra and its Lithuanian Chef, Modestas Pitrenas, can display their quality in this unpretentious Tchaikovsky-inspired score. And they do! Spectacular sound as well. Naturally. The project wouldn’t be complete without delivering the best possible definition. Jared Sacks knows what he’s doing and he does it well. Select the best quality format your system can handle. You’ll be sure to get every inch of the music as clear as possible from pp to fff. The surround is a plus, especially in the usual discrete Channel-mix.  

At the end of the day when everything is done and dusted, Anna Fedorova pays tribute to the Ukrainian people by adding Valentin Silvestrov’s The Messenger, a short piece for solo piano that this Ukrainian composer built on Mozart’s musical world. It reveals some more of the exceptional human being Anna Fedorova is. Ukrainians are not only emotional by nature but also stubborn survivors. Over the past 15 months, we have been able to watch them unite in their quest to save a nation. 

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply