There are literally dozens of versions of this very
coupling in the current catalogue. This particular recording has been
released in various guises in the past, and now makes a return on the
Eloquence label. Although there are many good things in the performances,
it is difficult to give it much more than a muted welcome, even at budget
price, in the face of some of the competition.
I will say straight out that, overall, I preferred
the Rhapsody to the Concerto performance. This is mainly
because Yuri Ahronovitch, a rather extrovert conductor, and his more
thoughtful soloist, the ever-reliable Tamas Vasary, appear to be at
one in their general aim. The brisk opening tempo is suitably exciting,
and the chimerical changes in mood are well handled by the partnership.
Vasary gave us many excellent Chopin discs in the seventies, and it
is no coincidence, I feel, that he is at his very best in the lyrical,
or more ruminative, sections. Thus, the chorale-like chords in Variation
7 are beautifully weighted, and the almost improvisatory feel of
Variation 11 has piano and woodwind counterpoint nicely balanced.
The orchestra and soloist enjoy themselves enormously in the big, Tchaikovskian
Variation 18, and Vasary is certainly not lacking in bravura
or virtuosity where required. However, turning to some of the competition
reveals playing greater depth and poetic insight. Earl Wildís stunning
disc with Horenstein (on Chandos), really takes some beating. Wild had
(and for that matter still has) a technique to rival Horowitz (or even
Rachmaniniov himself), and he revels in the intricate finger patterns
and cascading octaves, which are nonchalantly dispatched. There is plenty
of poetry too, and Wild has such a natural feel for the mood-shifts
in this music, that returning to the relatively muted Vasary is rather
The Concerto suffers more of the same, Iím afraid,
for this time we get a rather lethargic orchestral accompaniment, with
orchestral climaxes curiously uninvolving. The famous big tune of the
finale simply fails to take wing, and turning to either Wild, or Ashkenazy
(with either Previn or Haitink) shows a different level of excitement
and commitment. The slow movement probably comes off best, with Vasary
again showing us what a fine and sensitive pianist he could be, but
overall this music needs an extra dimension to really engage the listener.
One thing the disc is useful for is the reminder, however
brief, of truly great pianism from Lazar Berman Ė when on earth will
EMI re-issue his legendary second recording of Lisztís Transcendental
Studies? This tiny selection of preludes only serves to highlight
deficiencies elsewhere on this disc. The brooding B minor prelude
is suitably dark and full of Slavic melancholy. The D major is
a ray of light, but still has an uneasy undertone in Bermanís hands,
whilst the famous (or even infamous) C sharp minor emerges as
fresh and original as ever.
These very brief items will probably not be enough
to salvage the disc for most general collectors, who can choose from
an embarrassment of riches in this repertoire. Notes are as brief as
usual, and recorded sound is full and rich, though not as open as some
rivals from the same period.