Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.22 (1868) [23:34]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes S123 (1852) [17:30]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43 (1934) [24:10]
Elisso Bolkvadze (piano)
Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra/Jansug Kakhidze
rec. 1993 (Liszt) and 1994 (remainder), Tbilisi
CASCAVELLE VEL 3151 [65:52]
The recordings here were made nearly two decades ago and have done the reissue rounds a number of times before now. Elisso Bolkvadze is a prize-winning pianist and her hard hitting playing is personable, whilst Jansug Kakhidze (1935-2002) was known, somewhat optimistically one feels, as ‘the Georgian von Karajan’.
Rachmaninov’s evergreen Paganini Variations illustrates fairly graphically what is wrong - or at least one of the things that is wrong - which is an impossible acoustic. It swirls and echoes and with a very closely balanced piano we have something of an acoustic nightmare on our hands. In any case the performance is very cautious and dogged. It lacks clarity of direction, pianistic aerial fancy and a real sense of ensemble cohesion. Add to that a bizarre, albeit vividly hallucinatory moment toward the end and we are left with a badly balanced, poorly recorded, stolidly performed piece of work.
The Saint-Saëns is much more up to the mark tempo-wise but the bad balance does for it too. Bolkvadze’s technique is strong, albeit her imagination is often somewhat brusque. Orchestral counter-themes sound vapid or so in the background they might as well not be there at all. Her finger precision is laudable and she illuminates successive movements reasonably well but she’s fighting insuperable odds when it comes to the recording. The same is true of Liszt’s badinage in his Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes.
I think it’s probably time these performances were given what the old Record Guide used to call ‘honourable retirement’.
Jonathan Woolf 

Probably time these performances were given an ‘honourable retirement’.