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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
CD 1 [74:10]
Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, op.1 (1890 revised 1917) [26:46]

Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, op.40 (1926 revised 1927) [24:57]
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op.43 (1934) [22:04]
CD 2 [74:01]
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.18 (1901) [31:25]
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, op.30 (1909) [42:15]
CD 3 [73:12]
Prelude in C# minor (1893) [4.35]
10 Preludes, op.23 (1903) [30:37]
12 Preludes, op.32 (1910) [37:04]
Agustin Anievas (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon (opp.18 and 43); Aldo Ceccato (op.30); Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (opp.1 and 40)
rec. 12-13 September 1971 (opp.1 and 40); 16, 20-21 May 1967 (opp.18 and 43); 2-3 February 1973 (op.30); 19-20 August 1972, 18-20 July 1973, 6 June 1974 (Preludes). Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London. ADD
EMI CLASSICS TRIPLE 5 00871 [3 CDs: 74:10 + 74:01 + 73:12] 


Born in 1934, Agustin Anievas is an American pianist who specialised in the music of Rachmaninov, amongst others. This set is made up of different recordings made in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

With virtuosity to spare, Anievas throws himself into the challenge of these works and it’s obvious that, technically, the music holds no fears for him. However, virtuosity isn’t enough and Anievas fails to show any real sympathy with the works. He isn’t helped by some lacklustre accompaniments and occasional dull sound. 

Indeed, it is very hard to find anything to praise in this set because of the shortcomings of the performances. The first disk is the best (Concertos 1 and 4 and Paganini Rhapsody) with some fine playing – especially in the filigree work. The famous 18th variation is very well handled, never falling into the trap of going over the top. But this isn’t enough. Likewise the complete Preludes. Technically fine playing, but there’s nothing in the interpretations to set the pulse racing. 

There are many fine performances in the current catalogue of all these works and all are preferable to this issue. For the complete set of the concertante works, pride of place, naturally, goes to Rachmaninov himself, recorded, with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski (opp. 18 and 43) and Eugene Ormandy (opp. 1, 30 and 40), between 1929 and 1940. This is music and virtuosity welded together in some of the greatest pianism you’re ever likely to hear. These performances are in a class by themselves (RCA 090266 16582).

Chandos can boast two fine sets. Earl Wild with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jascha Horenstein, recorded for the Reader’s Digest in 1965 and given excellent digital remastering by Ralph Couzens – these have always been slightly controversial interpretations but they have a very special sweep and verve which I find irresistible (CHAN 8521/2). More recently (1989 and 1990), Chandos recorded Howard Shelley with the Scottish National Orchestra (as it then was), conducted by the great Bryden Thomson (CHAN 8882/3). 

For separate recordings I would recommend the following: Julius Katchen in the 2nd Concerto (with the New Symphony Orchestra and Anatole Fistoulari) and Rhapsody (with London Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Adrian Boult) [DECCA 475 7221 (8CDs)], Vladimir Horowitz in any of his five recordings of the 3rd Concerto – with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Albert Coates (rec 30 December 1930) [NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110696]; with the new York Philharmonic-Symphony, conducted by John Barbirolli (live, Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 1941 – coupled with Tchaikovsky 1st Concerto - live 31 March 1940) [Appian Publications & Recordings APR5519]; with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky (live, Hollywood Bowl, 31 August 1950) [AS Disc: AS 550 or Iron Needle: IN 1398];  with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner (recorded 8 and 10 May 1951) coupled with the 2nd Sonata and some small pieces [RCA Victor: 7754-2-RG] and with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Eugene Ormandy [live, Carnegie Hall, New York, 8 January 1978) [RCA Victor 09026 63681 2] and for the 4th Concerto go no further than Michelangeli (with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Ettore Gracis, recorded 1957, coupled with the Ravel G major Concerto) (EMI CLASSICS 0724356725829). 

There’s one final disk I’d like to mention: the 2nd Concerto played with real fire and passion by William Kapell, recorded live with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on 18 February 1951 and coupled with Khachaturian’s Concerto in a 1944 live performance, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ormandy. This is absolutely unmissable. (Music and Arts CD-1109). 

For me, Ashkenazy outplays everyone in the Preludes (Decca 00289 475 8238) – essential for any collection of Rachmaninov’s piano music.

Bob Briggs



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