Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


Suite No. 1 (1893) arr for piano and orchestra by Rebekah Harkness
Suite No. 2 (1901) arr for piano and orchestra
by Lee Hoiby
Suite No. 1 (1893) orig version for two pianos
Suite 1 Lee Hoiby/London PO/Jorge Mester
Suite 2 Lee Hoiby/London SO/Lawrence Foster
Suite 1 (orig) Steven and Nadia Gordon
rec 1968, 1971 orig released on Desto and Klavier LPs
ADD  [68.47]
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There isn't enough Rachmaninov for piano and orchestra so it comes as no surprise that these arrangements exist. The two suites were originally written for two pianos and are well enough known in that format.

The suites were written in 1893 (with the composer at one of the zeniths of his confidence after the success of the opera, Aleko) and 1901 (the year of the composer's return from the darkness of his breakdown).

The first suite is skilfully arranged to emphasise the stylistic parallels with Rimsky-Korsakov and along the way to point up similarities to the composer's own Caprice Bohémien and the fantasy The Rock. This is all very romantic and danceable - listen to the soft focus glycerine dreams of the first and third movements. The finale blares and glitters and the piano's insistent percussiveness screams Rachmaninov from the rooftops. The Russian Easter bells ring gloriously out in colours worthy of a Brangwyn or Roerich canvas.

The second suite owes its arrangement to composer Lee Hoiby (whose own piano concerto should not be overlooked). Its hammered romance recalls its contemporaneous partner: the second piano concerto and that work's agreeably lachrymose sentiment falls like a comfortable cloak over this work too. The quality of the invention is especially high in the first and final movements.

The Gordons are light as goose-down in the original version of the suite and eminently capture and convey the golden celebratory bells of the finale - Bax must surely have known the suite before he wrote his first piano sonata.

Likeable, and often better than likeable, music-making. Hoiby is notably excellent in the Second Suite.

There is a discreetly distanced hiss in the background of all these recordings. The quality of the duo recording excels that of the orchestral tapes which tend to haze when the denser orchestral textures assert themselves.

Definitely worth seeking out for those who cannot get enough of Rachmaninov.

Rob Barnett

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