These are heartfelt, brilliant performances of the two warhorses. The playing here is not lightweight but rather brooding, revealing the dark colours of Rachmaninov’s music. Both orchestra and pianist perform the concertos impeccably. First, there is Paavo Järvi with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra: commanding, precise, producing a rich string sound so important for this repertoire and often neglected in modern performances which often favour a chamber-like approach, unsuitable for this composer. While in other recordings the orchestral contribution often sounds like routine, here it is involved and well-prepared.
Then there is Khatia Buniatishvili herself. She opens the Second Concerto with dignity and command only to accelerate her playing later on. Listen to her build-up to the first movement recapitulation and you will realise that this is not your average Rach 2 performance. But this is not all about virtuosic playing. Both in the second movement and the quiet sections of the third she makes good use of her rubato to highlight the lyrical parts of this wonderful work. In the Third Concerto she is equally impressive. The first movement cadenza is delivered with all the required force and at 13:07 she makes the third movement sound thrilling without being on auto-pilot mode, as is often the case in this concerto.
All in all, this is not just another recording of the Rach 2 and 3. The orchestra’s dedicated contribution has to be stressed and congratulations to Järvi for delivering the score with all the lush, yet sensitive, orchestration it needs. It is remarkable how the dark hues of the impressive Czech Philharmonic intervene with Buniatishvili’s dazzling fingerwork and vice versa. The recording is transparent (perhaps it could have been slightly less so) with a little reverberation and complements this important release. This is a highly recommended pairing of the two great Rachmaninov concertos, surely among the best that have appeared recently.