Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata no.2 in B flat minor, op.36 (1913 version) [27:21]
Variations on a Theme of Corelli, op.42 (1931) [19:45]
Six Moments Musicaux, op.16 (1896) [31:23]
John Lill (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, 19 January 1994 (Sonata); 15 January 1996 (Corelli); 26-27 March 1997 (Moments). DDD
REGIS RRC 1331/PORTRAIT CLASSICS PCL 1003 [78:30]
The two different catalogue numbers above can be explained by the fact that the labelling of the physical CD indicates the Portrait original (but see below), released in 2008, whereas the booklet and inlay are in the livery of Regis, who have just reissued this disc after re-mastering it. In truth, that is not much of an explanation, and indeed there are more questions that Regis must answer: why is there no mention in the booklet of John Lill, why no note on the historical significance of this recording, why no where-or-when details, why no hint of the original source of these recordings?
More to the point, why not state that this disc is in fact a composite re-release of well-received recordings Lill made for the Nimbus label in the 1990s? The Piano Sonata no.2 is from NI 5348 (1994), the Corelli Variations from NI 5478 (1996) and the Moments Musicaux from NI 5575 (1998). There is clearly a danger that Regis could mislead browsers into buying recordings that they perhaps already own - after all, John Lill is still very much alive and well and performing, and these could theoretically be new recordings, as opposed to ones that are over fifteen years old. It could also be argued that the Regis reissue is not happily timed, as Nimbus themselves released a 3-disc set of Lill playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos just a few months previously, a set which also included these very recordings of the Second Sonata and Corelli Variations - see review.
There are plus sides, however: Rachmaninov's music is superb, and likely at the very least to please anyone attracted to his famous Prelude in C sharp minor op.3 no.2, or the Second Piano Concerto. John Lill is also in excellent form. All three works, the Sonata and Variations in particular, have been recorded umpteen times before, so Lill has massive competition. Favourite versions will ultimately come down to personal taste, with Simon Trpčeski and Freddy Kempff likely the front-runners among many excellent interpreters, but no one can go wrong with Lill's understated brilliance.
As for the re-mastering, the only truly justifiable reason for the re-release: it is very good, it has to be said. The original Nimbus sound was fine but not exceptional, and engineer Paul Arden-Taylor has clarified and deepened it. A final reason for any potential buyer to give this disc full consideration is its value for money - not just the 78+ minutes of Rachmaninov, but the bargain price - available widely on the internet at prices well below those legendary of Naxos.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Rachmaninov's music is superb and Lill is in excellent form.