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
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
There are no descriptive notes.