Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42
Tamás Vásáry (piano), Lazar Berman (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Ahronovitch
rec. 1977, Watford Town Hall, London (Paganini); 1980, Munich, Germany
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 457 906-2 
This Presto CD resuscitates a disc from one of DG’s early mid-price reissue CD compilations from the vinyl years. The recordings may be getting on for a half century old but the musical rewards from listening are still untired – indeed, tireless. The original Galleria concept justified the melding of two pianists and bridging piano and orchestra works with those for solo piano. The DG team could so easily have resorted to adding one or even two of Vásáry’s and Ahronovitch’s piano concertos from 1977. As it is, we have a valiant contrast which results in a programme with one foot planted in concerto territory and the other in the arguably more demanding solo works. The Paganini Variations are among the most popular of the Rachmaninov works. As a work the Paganini set does not have to strive hard to command thronged concert halls. The six Preludes - driven forward by Berman - are chosen for their consummate poetry and nervy drama. They work well. The Corelli Variations have never made it big but fit aptly enough by marrying two works following the Variation concept: Paganini and Corelli: one with orchestra and one not.
The Paganini set is given the lush and volatile treatment and Ahronovitch is a very suitable partner for Vásáry who has moved away from the big romantic ‘bow-wow’ after his DG-driven dalliance with the Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra. Hearing him now, I am reminded how much of a mercurially quick and stirring study he was in the Rachmaninov works. Time was, in days of yore, when those four Rachmaninov concertos and the Variations were associated with a fairly circumscribed list of piano conductor teams: Wild/Horenstein (Chandos/Chesky); Ashkenazy/Previn (EMI); Anievas (Ceccato, Burgos, Atzmon)). Vásáry was in that select company. As with much of Rachmaninov, the take-up amongst top and middling flight pianists has become much wider since the 1990s. Here, all those years ago, Vásáry stands his ground brilliantly and ranks with Wild who, for all of his allegiance to cuts, went for the jugular reaping emotion and dynamism when it came to the coup de coeur. Time for me dust off that DG set of the four concertos and listen afresh.
Berman (1930-2005), born in Leningrad and a pupil in Moscow of Goldenweiser, became an aficionado’s choice. He recorded for several Western labels and for Melodiya. In these solo piano works, his crushing ursine strengths illumine the beetling fortissimo passages. His sweeping confidence carries over into the many pianissimo moments. Berman holds the transfixed listener’s interest in the more recessed moments - try 12.20 in the Corelli set. That said, he rises high when Rachmaninov calls on the pianist to do anything that will lend itself to tempest and thunder. Either way, he never sounds as if he is in any danger of slipping into cruise control. The famous C sharp minor and B flat major Preludes with their dramatic accelerandi register magisterially. All six Preludes, as an assembled group, make adroit partners (often romantically atmospheric) in cosying up to the imposing Corelli set. All seven works were first in harness for DG LP 2531 276 in 1980.
It’s all admirable stuff and superbly recorded by DG’s engineering team. The recordings’ analogue origins give no cause for concern - quite the contrary.
The liner note (English, German, French, Spanish) is by none other than Anthony Burton.
Presto show finessed judgement in reviving this disc. If you missed it first time around, here is your chance to put the omission right and reward your ears and heart.
List of Preludes
Op. 3 No. 2 in C sharp minor; Op. 23: No. 1 in F sharp minor; No. 2 in B flat major; No. 4 in D major; Op. 32: No. 12 in G sharp minor; No. 10 in B minor