> The essential Rachmaninov [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Essential Rachmaninov

Piano Concerto No. 2
Largo (from Piano Concerto 4)
Vocalise (Renée Fleming/ECO/Tate)
Prelude in C sharp minor (Ashkenazy)
Pâques (from Suite 1 for two pianos) (Previn/Ashkenazy)
Adagio (from Symphony 2) (Kirov Orch/Valery Gergiev)
Non allegro (from Symphonic Dances) (Concertgebouw/Ashkenazy)
Paganini Rhapsody (Kocsis/SFSO/de Waart)
Allegro ma non tanto (from Piano Concerto 3) (Ashkenazy/LSO/Fistoulari)
Adagio ma non troppo - allegro vivace (from Symphony 3) (Concertgebouw/Ashkenazy)
Nunc Dimittis (from Vespers) (St Petersburg Chamber Choir/Nikolai Korniev)
Prelude in G minor (Rafael Orozco)
Romance in F minor (arr Lloyd Webber) (Lloyd Webber/Lenehan)
Liebesfreud (Kreisler arr Rachmaninov) (Rachmaninov from 1926 Ampico piano roll)
Allegro con fuoco (Concertgebouw/Ashkenazy)
rec 1963-1998 DDD/ADD
DECCA 470 457-2 [2CD: 79.10+79.35]



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This 2CD set at bargain price is not designed for the serious Rachmaninov enthusiast although it might be an inexpensive way to pick up one or two versions missing from your collection.

The target clientele must range from any classical music novice to the dedicated Radio 2 to a light music person who wants painlessly to try the range of Rachmaninov. It will also draw in anyone new to some or all of the music who would like some delightful aural background for that long car, plane or train journey.

The collection cannot be faulted for generosity. Each disc is within seconds of eighty minutes playing time.

If we ignore the shorter works the discs feature only two complete pieces: Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody. The rest is what you may expect with complete movements extracted from larger works.

I confess that such is the nature of this collection I have sampled each of the 17 tracks rather than played the whole of each disc. The two complete works have been played straight through.

The Ashkenazy/Haitink Second Piano Concerto has some magical effects and while it does come to life in the allegro scherzando much of the rest of it is soporific and will play up to most casual listener's expectations of the work.

Vocalise is ripely and warmly done rather in the style of one of those golden sunset songs of Richard Strauss. The Prelude is from Ashkenazy's 1983 complete recording and is suitably soulful - rising from dark to sunlight. Pâques is bright as a gemstone and alive with the impact and hum of preternaturally fast bells. Gergiev's version of the Second Symphony's long adagio is in step with the Ashkenazy/Haitink Second Piano Concerto. The strings have a tender feathery quality but the music should also have a hint of blood in its languorous veins but that element is missing. Ashkenazy returns to Haitink for the middle movement of the Fourth Concerto where once again languor tenderly - perhaps yawningly - carries the day.

Cobwebs are swept away by the rhythmic life, shock and blast of the first movement of the Symphonic Dances conducted by Ashkenazy. It is a good performance and the inky black stormy sheetcloud blare of the brass is memorable. Similarly excellent is the second movement from the Third Symphony - succulent playing all round. Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw are at the tiller again for the Allegro con fuoco of the First Symphony.

Zoltán Kocsis is a world class pianist favoured by subtle sharply focused Philips sound. This is a very good and sparkling performance of the Rhapsody contrasting with mooning about in the Haitink/Ashkenazy Second Concerto. Then comes the oldest recording in the set - the Fistoulari-conducted first movement of the Third Piano Concerto. It is a pity that we were not given the whole of that recording. There is some hiss but you probably won't notice it all that much. The young Ashkenazy strolls nonchalantly though the thickets.

The Essential Rachmaninov would have to include something vocal. The ethereal sounding Nunc Dimittis from the Vespers was well chosen. Vladimir Mostovoy's tenor is very satisfying and the blazing fervour of a choir confounds any fears associated with the words 'chamber choir'. Decca go to Orozco rather than to Ashkenazy for the G minor prelude (Op. 23 No. 5). Orozco was one of the Leeds winners in the 1970s. Whatever happened to him and indeed to Craig Sheppard?

The Lloyd Webber version of the Romance in F minor is gloomy and melancholy and its melodic material is not memorable. The Liebesfreud is Kreisler arranged by Rachmaninov played by the composer in a 1926 Ampico piano roll. The arrangement surrounds and almost suffocates the cheery dance-like theme with typically stormy and restless virtuosity.

The age of the recordings ranges from 1963 to 1998 though most of the tracks are digital from the 1980s and 1990s. They are sourced from Decca and Philips; nothing from that other Universal stablemate, DG.

There are no descriptive notes.

Rob Barnett

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