Rachmaninoff so slow, you just have to listen

January 10, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Alexander Toradze's account of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto is both fascinating and perverse, enthralling and infuriating.

The performance that the 39-year-old Georgian-born, Russian-trained pianist gave of the piece last night in Meyerhoff Hall with the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor Zdenek Macal was the slowest that this listener has ever heard.

At about 48 minutes, it was a full quarter of an hour longer than the first recorded performances of the composer himself and of Vladimir Horowitz (albeit with a few cuts), 10 minutes longer than those Byron Janis used to give in the early 1960s and about five to seven minutes longer than those of such recent interpreters as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire.

In so erotically charged a piece as the Rachmaninoff Third, this made for some excruciatingly prolonged moments. It was -- to say the least -- a very steamy performance.

But add to this that Toradze had some idiosyncratic ideas about individual sections of the piece: an opening in which his playing was almost inaudibly soft; a first movement cadenza in which the young pianist nearly disemboweled the instrument, producing sounds so loud that he may have permanently raised Meyerhoff's roof; and moments such as a solo passage near the end of the final movement that was so surrealistically slow that the pianist made the piece come to a stop.

What all of this did was to make this listener hear things he had never heard before. Toradze's alternately tortured and heroic interpretation is not one to hear every day of the week, but well worth a hearing at one of the pianist's repeat performances -- either tonight's at 8:15 or tomorrow morning's at 11.

Macal and the orchestra gave the pianist an excellent accompaniment and were even better in the rest of the program, Roberto Sierra's "SASIMA" and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8.

The former, a 12-minute, post-modern updating of Ravelian orchestration, was filled with wonderful effects, particularly a witty and sensual duet for trombone and flute in a dusky Habanera that suggested the Afro-Caribbean roots of the composer.

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