Denis Matsuev has some serious ideas about Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. He sees it not as the Second Symphony with piano accompaniment, but rather as a Prelude of massive size with orchestral connective tissue. He sees it as a work of sometimes unbearable momentum, and at other times of heart rending stillness. And he has the technique to back up these ideas--a hugely satisfying use-your-paw-to-press-the-note-down-as-far-as-it-goes sound that cuts through the orchestra like there's a whole "piano" section, exceeded only by a beguiling sensitivity that unabashedly steals your heart.
In short, after taking a lot of heat for schmaltzing up the Concertgebouw's program on Monday, I think its safe to say that Rachmaninoff has redeemed himself in DC's eyes.
The NSO, under the direction of James Gaffigan (any relation to this guy?) played with delicacy and distinction in many moments. But at other times, they seemed to turn Matsuev's crisp, driving sets into gluey, halting picks (volleyball metaphor FTW!). Not that its easy to maintain momentum over those expansive themes, but one wonders at what could be achieved with an orchestra matching the brilliant agility Matsuev was serving up.
Matsuev responded to ecstatic applause with this showpiece, providing me with cheesy encore #2 for the week. I mean, it's his right and all, but after being so blown away by his Rachmaninoff I was really jonesing for some more information about what he could do with, you know, teh serious music.
The opener was a fascinating piece called "Requiem for Icarus" by Lera Auerbach. There were passages that came off a bit clumsily in the NSO's hands, but the overall impression was searing and direct, particularly the chilling final section.
After the half was Chaikovskii (love that bad-ass spelling) #4. Quibbles in the first half be damned, this was an exquisitely executed performance from the NSO. The allegro was played with glorious, tense precision, giving way to a second movement of disarming simplicity of expression. I don't know what to say about that plucked business in the scherzo, but the finale was an all cylinder tour de force. Gaffigan has a keen sense of phrasing that feels at once driving and deeply intuitive.