Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Concertos Nos 1-4 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini   Earl Wild (piano) RPO/Jascha Horenstein recorded Kingsway Hall, May 1965 CHANDOS ENCHANT CHAN 7114 (2 CD) [67.46] [65.45]£17.00




Here, in one single-width case, you have one of the paradigms of the catalogue. For years this was a sleeper resting in the obscurity of the Reader's Digest subscriber archive. Wild's performances are now easily available via this set and the differently coupled three discs available in the USA from Chesky (variously coupled with Macdowell Piano Concerto No. 2 and most missed in the present company Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead).

Ardour and darkly glowing passion light up these works with uncommon muscularity. Wild's standing as a virtuoso is well and truly affirmed by these eloquent performances. Every moment is alive to dynamic subtlety as well as pliant ebb and flow. Horenstein, much associated with the Mahler and Bruckner, still seems a strange choice as conductor but the chemistry worked and the enchantment is complete.

There are details to be regretted such as the decision to use the shorter version of the third piano concerto. The recording is getting on for 35 years old and no doubt greater refinement is on tap in technical terms from more recent digital performances but once again the music making excels all and Chandos have drawn on the deep pile luxury of the original analogue spools to extract a splendid sound. Wild's self-intoxicated yet still taut performances banish all regrets while the music is playing and long after silence has settled on the loudspeakers. If you are looking to be further convinced try sampling the last movement of the second piano concerto where astounding solo playing is complemented by whip-crack playing from 'Beecham's orchestra'. The ecstatic moaning of the orchestra in the climactic third movement of the third concerto is also notable. Both the unfashionable first and fourth concertos yield up new glories in the hands of these artists. The Paganini set is done with uncommon brilliance although I thought that the famous string anthem did not ring as sumptuously as it might have done in other recordings.

Design, as with all the Enchant series, is matchless: rich, dark and brooding. Trilingual notes are by John Cox.

For a single set at mid-price and allowing for a shorter version third concerto, there is no true competition. I confidently recommend this set which contains so many memorable and deeply moving and viscerally exciting moments. It beggars belief that these sessions in the now demolished Kingsway Hall can have been so consistently successful. They will be enjoyed down all the years.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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