No shortage of recordings of these battle-scarred warhorses – spanning nine decades or so and including the composer’s own accounts (two of the C-minor Concerto) – but between them Yevgeny Sudbin and Sakari Oramo offer medication and resuscitation. Anyone who finds that the opening of Opus 18 can be a portentous affair from most pianists will respond favourably to Sudbin’s non-rhetorical (if arpeggiated, like the composer) approach, part of an impetuous, poised and flexible approach to the first movement that finds him variegated and poetic, abetted by Oramo’s attention to detail and dynamics and the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s warmth and character; whatever the ebb and flow of expression (personal insights) it comes across with persuasion, the musicians rediscovering the score afresh without whimsy. The slow movement is especially lovely – a moonlit love-story (maybe a Brief Encounter) – with some beguiling clarinet traces and intimate strings, Sudbin mercurial when the music quickens. Maybe he’s a little laboured early in the Finale, although the contrasts of material (fast/slow/agile/grand) are absorbed into a whole and the coda evinces a real sense of arrival and achievement.
It’s similar with Piano Concerto 3, an unsullied and convincing look at music that one can grow tired of through over-exposure and/or clichéd renditions. From Sudbin and Oramo (a real partnership that the recorded balance faithfully captures) the opening is innocent yet folksy, leaving enough room for acceleration and without expansive material then seeming to be divorced. Sudbin has unobtrusive yet characterful mastery of the notes, and a varied touch, and there are numerous eloquent woodwind contributions. The first movement exhibits a likeable degree of fantasy (to which Sudbin's choice from Rachmaninov's two cadenzas is apt), the slow one has intensity of line and the Finale is given an unusual degree of deportment and light and shade, a magical moment of repose from Sudbin, as well as direction to the finishing post. Both performances are a tonic.