> Sergei Rachmaninov [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Prelude in B minor, Op.32, No.10
Prelude in D major, Op.23, No.4
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.3, No.2
Tamas Vasary (piano-Concerto, Rhapsody)
Lazar Berman (piano-Preludes)
London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Ahronovitch
Recorded 1976 (Op. 18), 1977 (Op. 43), 1980 (Preludes) ADD
ELOQUENCE DG 457 305-2 [75.58] Super-budget

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 cruel.

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.

Tony Haywood



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