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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op.1 (1890-91, rev. 1917) [26:46]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op.40 (1926, rev. 1927 and 1941) [24:57]
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 (1934) [22:04]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18 (1900-01) [31:25]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op.30 (1909) [42:15]
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.3, No.2 (1892) [4:35]
Ten Preludes, Op.23 (1903) [30:17]
Thirteen Preludes, Op.32 (1910) [37:04]
Agustin Anievas (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon (Op.18 and Op. 43); Aldo Ceccato (Op.30); Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (Op.1 and Op. 40)
rec. 12-13 September 1971 (Op.1 and Op.40); 16, 20-21 May 1967 (Op.18 and Op. 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 5008712 [3 CDs: 74:10 + 74:01 + 73:12]

These recordings were digitally remastered in the mid-1990s and have been issued several times over the years. One still encounters them on EMI’s Gemini and Double Forte series. The present set has also been reviewed by Musicweb International colleague Bob Briggs who is far cooler about Anievas’s performances than I am.
Agustin Anievas was a new name to me and as the accompanying booklet notes contain no information on the soloist I had to resort to a search on Google. I discovered that a handful of Anievas’s discs are available. The American pianist was born in 1934 and made his professional debut as an eighteen year old in 1952. A student of the Juilliard School in New York City, he won the first International Dimitri Mitropoulos Music Competition for pianists in 1958 and became a laureate of Belgium’s Queen Elizabeth competition. Evidently a specialist in the music of Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninov, Anievas became Professor of Music at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music.
In this 1971 recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 one immediately notices Anievas’s splendid piano tone together with luxurious orchestral support. In the opening Vivace the playing is buoyant and vibrant with the extended cadenza at 9:36-12:15 splendidly done. Passionate playing in the Andante elicits a warm emotional response and in the final Allegro vivace I enjoyed the characterful playing.
The recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 and also of the Piano Concerto No. 4 that I have grown to love is the captivating and highly colourful 1995 Katowice versions from Bernd Glemser and the Polish National Orchestra under Antoni Wit on Naxos 8.550809 - c/w Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
In the opening Allegro moderato of the Piano Concerto No. 2 Anievas almost succeeds in melting my heart with playing that is of a special quality. He adroitly infuses an atmosphere of beauty and serenity in the Tchaikovskian central movement Adagio sostenuto. The muscular lyricism of the Allegro scherzando is contrasted by passages of sensitivity. The score is brought to an especially thrilling conclusion.
The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is given a glowing performance. I loved Anievas’s lightness of touch in variation four; his deft subtlety in variation six and the command and strength in variations eight and thirteen. He provides considerable joie de vivre in variations ten and twenty three, and exquisite tenderness in variations eleven, sixteen and eighteen. I was impressed by his robust agility in variation fourteen and his total assurance in variation twenty two.
In recordings coupling the Piano Concerto No 2 with the Rhapsody I retain a great affection for the exhilarating combination of Vladimir Ashkenazy and the LSO under Andre Previn. Recorded in 1971 at the Kingsway Hall, London I have the disc on Decca Ovation 417 702-2. I fondly recall my first versions on vinyl. These are the appealing and stimulating recordings by Martino Tirimo with the Philharmonia under Yoel Levi on a 1982 digital recording from the Henry Wood Hall, London on Classics for Pleasure CFP 4383. I have now obtained these Tirimo/Levi performances on compact disc on EMI CFP 9017.
Recorded in 1973 the Piano Concerto No 3, informally known as ‘Rach 3’, opens with an extended Allegro ma non tanto. The convincing Anievas with Ceccato and the New Philharmonia splendidly convey the shifting and dramatic moods. The central movement is an Intermezzo: Adagio with the soloist communicating the intense sorrow and anguish that permeates the music together with contrasting episodes of joy and ecstasy. In the Finale: Alla breve Anievas unearths a kaleidoscope of vivid colours driven by bursts of considerable rhythmic energy. Were this a live performance Anievas’s thrilling playing of the fiery conclusion would be guaranteed to draw a standing ovation.
The premier recommendation from my collection is the thrilling live 1982 Berlin version from Martha Argerich with the Berlin RSO under Riccardo Chailly on Philips 446 673-2 (c/w Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1). My first version was a vinyl recording, that I nearly wore out by playing it so much. It was by Tamás Vásáry with the LSO under Yuri Ahronovitch. My copy of the Vásáry seems to have been made around 1976-77 and is on Deutsche Grammophon ‘Privilege’ 2535 493. Another vinyl recording that I admired but no longer have is the thrilling digital version played by Jorge Bolet with the LSO under Ivan Fischer released in 1983 on Decca SXDL 7609.
Anievas’s 1971 recording of the Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor opens with an Allegro vivace in which I marvel at his glorious playing. From around point 6:00 I enjoyed the way he expertly develops an intensely passionate fervour. Throughout, one notices the close orchestral support, especially from the woodwind soloists. An interpretation of warmth and tenderness from Anievas in the central movement and exceptional orchestral playing adds significantly to the success of the performance. In the concluding movement Allegro vivace I marvel at the brisk and buoyant playing demonstrating high concentration and robust intensity.
Of the complete sets of the four Concertos and the Rhapsody I remain an advocate of the award-winning and best-selling performances from Stephen Hough and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Litton. These fresh and spontaneous accounts were recorded predominantly at live performances in 2003-04 at Dallas and can be had on Hyperion CDA675012.
Of the older performances in my collection I must mention the superb playing from the composer on the historical Victor recordings of his performances of the Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski from 1929 and the Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor with the same orchestra under Eugene Ormandy from 1940. Superbly remastered to a remarkable standard for its years by audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn the disc is available on Naxos 8.110601.
The third disc consists of the Rachmaninov Preludes (Opp.23 and 32) plus the famous Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.3, No.2. The C sharp minor Prelude has been recorded innumerable times and is a work that the public always demanded that Rachmaninov play in recital. The composer evidently grew to despise the piece as he thought that he had written other works of superior quality that were overshadowed. Furthermore, as he had sold the piece outright to his publisher there was no financial gain from its tremendous and enduring success. This performance from Anievas, whilst not the most muscular version I have heard, makes a remarkable dramatic impact. My particular favourite recording of it is the commanding interpretation from Vladimir Ashkenazy from a disc of Preludes that was first released in 1976. The Ashkenazy is on Decca ‘The Originals’ 475 8238 0 (c/w 10 Preludes, Op.23 and 13 Preludes, Op.32).
I thoroughly enjoyed Anievas’s interpretations of the Preludes. From the Op.23 set I especially appreciated the upbeat magnificence of the Prelude No.2 and the calm bleakness with an undercurrent of peril in No.4. A competitor for the popularity of the Prelude in C sharp minor is No.5 in G minor which has an urgent martial character with a central section of nostalgic wistfulness. From the Op.32 set the Prelude No.7 is conveyed with yearning melancholy; No.10 is impressive for Anievas’s deep concentration and tension and in No.11 the poignant melody reminded me of the security and comfort of a children’s nursery.
Although this is a consistently impressive recital there are many high quality competitors in the Preludes. These include Ashkenazy on Decca London, Horowitz on Deutsche Grammophon, Nikolai Lugansky on Erato, Moura Lympany on Apex and Boris Berezovsky on Mirare. If I could have in my collection just one disc of a selection from Rachmaninov’s solo piano music it would be the one re-issued by Olympia of Sviatoslav Richter’s acclaimed 1971 and 1988 performances. On this essential recording Richter performs with tremendous personality and insight: the Etudes-Tableaux, Op.33, Nos. 5, 6, 9; Etudes-Tableaux, Op.39, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9; Preludes, Op.23, Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and the Preludes, Op.32, Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12 all now available on Regis RRC 1022.
The warm and clear sound quality is of a good overall standard with the piano being especially well caught. An essay about Rachmaninov in the booklet contains little critical analysis of the music and nothing about the soloist.
The splendid playing of Anievas admirably serves the music of Rachmaninov. I have my own favourite versions of these scores but if these were the only performances in my collection I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Michael Cookson

see also review by Bob Briggs


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