Rachmaninov—Piano Concerto No. 2, Paganini Rhapsody—Lang Lang, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev (Deutsche Grammophon) [SACD/CD]
Only 23, Lang Lang has already been a piano superstar for five years. He has the youthful resiliency that it takes to navigate the world's major concert halls and biggest-name orchestras while maintaining a level of performance that consistently earns rave reviews. The Rachmaninov C-minor concerto gives him a chance to show off both his chops and his sensitivity. It's a powerful, big-boned, muscular work but also bittersweet, tender, and even introverted. The fleet-fingered Chinese pianist delivers the concerto with a steady eye on both the big picture and the filigree. It's an astounding performance.
Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is a lighter work (almost anything would seem lighter by comparison). It's most effective in its darker, quieter, more reflective moments.
And the sound? It's big, smooth, and well proportioned, like the performances. The most remarkable thing about it is that the stereo CD layer sounds nearly as good as the multichannel SACD layer. It's not only a great recording; it's the kind that communicates effectively in any medium. Surely, this is the best piano-and-orchestra release of the year.