recorded by Rudolf Serkin in his twilight years have been somewhat
sniffily received by many critics. In this case I am happy to
relate that the only problem is the extensive competition in
the current catalogue. Pianists of every age worth their salt
have set down their own versions. There are so many that any
newcomer is bound to find it difficult in today’s crowded scene.
The present issue has Seiji Ozawa as conductor and he is often
received in much the same way as the soloist.
I found these recordings to be performances of great integrity,
showing both strength and clarity. Serkin is superbly accompanied
by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in their home hall. Symphony
Hall is well known for its illustrious acoustic properties,
not always ideally captured. Here however it communicates as
a superb example of acoustic excellence captured to perfection
by the Telarc engineers.
throughout is a model of excellence. I enjoyed these traditional
performances as much as any I have ever heard on disc. Tempi
are ‘middle of the road’ (i.e. no rushed speeds, nor over slow)
with an accuracy astonishing for a pianist in his eighties.
The three discs
were previously available separately and only the third is very
poor in terms of total playing time. Now however, released as
a boxed set at mid-price, this concern is less valid, and any
purchaser wanting these works/artists, may go ahead in the knowledge
that what they are about to hear is as good as it gets.
As I listened to
all of the concertos one after the other, I was struck by the
consistency throughout. Serkin’s earlier performances with conductors
such as Bernstein, Ormandy and Szell had perhaps a little more
zest about them but in all cases the sound quality was significantly
worse. In addition, when compared with period performances using
much smaller bands, Serkin’s massive technique would sound out
of character. In any case, I can’t imagine the orchestral performances
No, this recording need not fear anything
from comparison with any of the competing versions, except being
drowned by their sheer number. Telarc’s main problem would appear
to be how to make this set sufficiently different in the shops
to draw in the purchaser; I will leave it up to their marketing
department to devise a strategy. It is a very difficult problem
in today’s market. I wish them every success in trying to improve
this set’s visibility in-store and by companies selling discs
through mail order or the internet.
Make no mistake,
these recordings deserve to do very well, and Telarc are to
be thanked for making them available once again in a superb
acoustic and in first class digital sound.