RECORD OF THE MONTH

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
A Tribute to Rachmaninoff
Elegy Op. 3 (1892) [5:23]
Six Preludes (Prelude Op. 32 No.11 in B major Allegretto [2:30]; Prelude Op. 32 No.12 in G-sharp minor Allegro [2:57]; Prelude Op. 23 No.10 in G-flat major Largo [3:20]; Prelude Op. 23 No.4 in D major Andante cantabile [4:28]; Prelude Op. 32 No.5 in G major Moderato [3:45]; Prelude Op. 23 No.7 in F minor Allegro [2:54]} Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [39:51]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
Russian National Symphony Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
rec. 25 October 2010, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth (1-7); live, 13 November 1992, Bolshoi Hall of Moscow Conservatory (8-10)
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6148 [65:14]

A master in Rachmaninoff - as I suppose I must call Rachmaninov, according to this recording - Vladimir Feltsman here gives us a very balanced and agreeable programme. It comprises a live performance in Moscow and a recent studio recording session for Nimbus separated by eighteen years. There is no musical reason why two such disparate sources should not be linked on one disc and Feltsman must have consented to the photomontage on the cover which depicts him both as he is now Ė in black and white as a venerable gentleman at the end of his sixth decade and as he was in colour when he recorded the concerto with a great deal more hair. Itís a sobering reminder of the effects of time. However, time has by no means dimmed his artistry and both performances are testimony to his reputation as a superlative interpreter of Rachmaninoff.

The main drawback to this disc lies in the juxtaposition of the warm, detailed studio ambience with the distant, papery acoustic of the live recorded sound from 1992, complete with percussive sneezes and coughs. This is a pity, as artistically, I think Feltsman and Pletnev can stand comparison with any competitive recording. Many of those front-runners, such as Horowitz with Reiner and Byron Janis on Mercury, are also either disadvantaged by tape hiss or, as with Van Cliburn for RCA/Sony, in rather dull analogue sound. For some, the only interpretative equals in better sound than Feltsman might be Volodos or Kissin. That said, I still value the passion and sweep of the Feltsman-Pletnev partnership above virtually any other version.

Feltsmanís virtuosity and complete immersion in the idiom are things of wonder; it must have helped that he had an equally passionate and virtuosic pianist in Pletnev as his conductor. This is a grand, storming performance in which technical difficulties are not even a consideration for the soloist. The electricity of the live occasion excuses the audience noise and some congestion at peak volume. The Finale builds and builds to a truly thrilling climax and the audience response is ecstatic.

In addition, the dreamy beauty of Feltsmanís playing of the Elegy and the six Preludes in themselves constitute some of the most gloriously sentimental and impassioned pianism I have heard for a good while. The Elegy is a stirring outpouring by a composer not yet twenty, infusing the melancholy delicacy of Chopin with the tragic grandeur of the Russian soul. The Preludes are equally remarkable for their variety and for the sensitivity and technical bravura of Feltsmanís treatment of them.

In short, a collectorís disc for whose sonic deficiencies in the concerto it is very easy to make allowances.

Ralph Moore

A collectorís disc for whose sonic deficiencies in the concerto it is very easy to make allowances.