- Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1
- Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40
- Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Introduction and 24 Variations), in A minor for piano & orchestra, Op. 43
- Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
- Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
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Piano connoisseurs prize Stephen Hough especially for his thoughtful, elegant recordings of 19th-century rarities, such as his award-winning set of the Saint-Saëns piano concertos. He doesn't shy away from warhorses, though, as this set of the complete Rachmaninoff concertos abundantly confirms. Indeed, he invests these tried-and-true favorites with the same spirit of adventure and fresh discovery that he brings to obscure repertoire. Recorded live in Dallas in early 2004, Hough's performances feature many a bracing tempo, but the rapid speeds are invariably balanced by supple and stylish rubato (rhythmic flexibility) and met with considerable technical legerdemain -- these are some of the most finger-twisting works in the repertoire, after all, and Hough rises to their challenges with seeming ease. The First and Fourth Concertos fill the first disc, along with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and the first thing you'll notice at the opening is the abundance of portamentos (pitch slides) in the violins. It's a wonder in this age of performance "authenticity" that this effect is so often disregarded (what could be more authentic in Rachmaninoff?), and they make the First Concerto, possibly the least well known of the four, come alive. Similarly convincing is the rhythmic stretching and pulling, which Hough indulges in frequently but always with taste. The second disc includes the more popular Second and Third Concertos. Hough's blazing rendition of the latter may outpace most rivals, yet it never feels rushed. The vivacissimo marking at the "big tune" in the final bars has rarely been taken at face value, as Hough points out in the booklet notes, but he pulls it off, the music cresting over ever-higher phrases like tidal waves on fast-forward. The effect is breathtaking, and judging by the Dallas audience's passionately enthusiastic response, they thought so, too.
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