The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

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gperkins151
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The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 9:16 am

On another forum, I wrote a number of informal reviews of all the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 recordings that I owned. Along the way, I picked up a number of new recordings that were suggested by others and reviewed those too. I am pasting them here for those who are interested in reading them and/or commenting on them. In other threads, I will likely do the same for each of the other concertos, along with the Paganini Rhapsody.

Reviews of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 in this thread:

Argerich/Chially
Ashkenazy/Fistoulari
Ashkenazy/Previn
Berman/Abbado
Gavrilov/Muti
Gieseking/Barbirolli
Gilels/Cluytens
Horowitz/Ormandy
Horowitz/Reiner
Hough/Litton
Janis/Dorati
Lill/Otaka
Pletnev/Rostropovich
Rachmaninov/Ormandy
Rudy/Jansons
Sokolov/Ollila
Volodos/Levine
Wild/Horenstein


Rachmaninov/Ormandy - Recorded in 1939/40, this performance is now legendary. I own the Naxos transfers of the recording and I am glad to, though the more natural sound of Marston's transfers in big box The Complete Recordings [of Rachmaninoff] gives another approach to the sound, albeit with less fullness in the lower frequencies. As with all historical recordings, I had to listen to this in quite a different way, since the sound and approach are very different from what I had grown accustomed to. For example, he takes many cuts in the work. Also, at times the orchestra's power seriously distorts the overall sound. Luckily, by approaching it with an open mind, I was pleasantly surprised. Rachmaninov takes the theme faster than I have ever heard it played and this gives the theme an altogether different feel. Rather than being more dreamlike, it flows ahead faster, more dance-like. The balance between the piano and orchestra, most of the time, is fine. Thankfully, the orchestra actually has more presence here than in the Horowitz/Reiner recording. The composer is electrifying here, generating incredible energy in the faster passages. Alternately, the softer passages show a tender, vulnerable side that most pianists do not achieve. When he transitions back to the more extroverted sections, however, he doesn't completely lose this quality. The louder moments unfortunately blur the sound considerably, but these are certainly not many and the pianist's contribution seems to easily keep this a largely positive experience. For example, his cadenza is full of confident, powerful, yet humble pianism. Unfortunately, he takes the dream-like portion too fast like Horowitz, but unlike Horowitz, he regains the tenderness near the end.

It was in the slow movement that he truly won me over with stunning poetic feeling wedded with an awe-inspiring virtuosity. Only the cuts bothered me here and again the tendency for the sound to break up during the forte passages. However, the bars that connect this movement with the finale are as tough and as visceral as one could want.

Here he is fast, without seeming to "show off," and maintains a beautiful musicality as the same time. As might be expected of a composer playing his own music, he shows a clear understanding of the structure of the work and communicates this well to the audience. Unlike with Horowitz/Reiner (reviewed later), the music flows effortlessly and smoothly from section to section. Ormandy does a fine job and even if the age of the recording causes the strings to lack much of the beauty the music, how can he be faulted here? Luckily the transfer doers a great job of capturing Rachmaninov's performance, as there is much to savor here. It's probably not going to be a first choice for many, due to the overall sound, personally I really like the orchestral parts in this work and feel that they are an integral part of the work.


Sokolov/Ollila (Live Performance)- The entire work is played without cuts and Sokolov chooses the longer, less common cadenza. As the performance began, I noticed two unique things. First, Sokolov plays the opening theme more delicately than I have ever heard it played. It is certainly refreshing to hear this theme treated with such care. Silky smooth are adjectives that come to mind. The other thing I noticed later proved to be one of the performances downfalls. The movement is played slower than I have heard it played before and to me, this results in a less urgent reading. Not that Sokolov's mercurial, passionate playing doesn't do its best to generate tension and excitement, mind you, I just felt that the urgency was lacking in the faster sections. The pianist finds incredible beauty in the slower, more delicate passages and generated incredible energy from within as the music moved to the more intense sections. What most impressed me here and throughout this work with him is his incredible ability to play intensely and elegantly. His cadenza is big, bold and dark. Although I prefer it a bit faster, it was nice to actually hear all the notes.

In the second movement, I was most impressed. They chose a standard tempo that at first sounds rushed by comparison with the opening movement's pace, but soon the ear adjusts to it nicely. The piano's first entrance, with those dissonant descending chords, is less impressive than I have heard, but he more than makes up for it in the rest of the movement, where many of the admirable qualities mentioned earlier resurface. The important connection to the finale is incredibly authoritative; big, loud and strong.

The finale, though, unfortunately suffers from the same issues of tempo as the opening movement. Ashkenazy/Previn choose a slower tempo here as well that doesn't work well for me at all. Sokolov's is even slower, yet works better somehow. The tempo doesn't give the effect of dragging and I was in awe of the pianist's technical prowess and poetic playing. There is a nice balance and blend of piano and orchestra that creates some beautiful moments here. The orchestra is loud and powerful, but perhaps due to the slower tempo, lacks urgency. The star here is clearly Sokolov, who displays a full range of tones, colors and styles. I feel that perhaps with a more aggressive conductor and a faster tempo in the outer movements, he will become one of my favorites.


Ashkenazy/Fistoulari - After listening to Sokolov's recording last night, I have to give this one another listen, as they share a number of qualities. It was recorded in 1963 and as my friend dirkronk has shared in the past, it is indeed superior to his reading with Previn. Unlike the recording with Previn, here Ashkenazy plays the shorter cadenza in the first movement, though the work is played without cuts. He is about as gentle as Sokolov with the opening theme, but plays it at a noticably faster, though not fast tempo. This helps the overall sense of urgency later in the movement. While Ashkenazy does not achieve the excitement generated by other versions, most notably Argerich's, he easily wins the prize for the most intimate reading. The slower passages are exquisite in their daydream-like beauty. His tone sounds like water gently falling from a fountain. In the cadenza, he chooses to sustain the overall mood and rather than hammer the notes home, he plays in a sleek manner, generating beautiful colors and a great sense of mystery. The orchestral/piano balance is ideal throughout and the playing of the LSO is top-notch. Intensity is often traded for depth, but for me it gains much in the tradeoff. Most notable perhaps is that the entire movement is presented and experienced as one complete thought. This is no small feat considering the length of this composition. This is superb!

The slow movement is well paced, with the stunning strings adding tension and beauty throughout. Ashkenazy's entrance disappointed me somewhat, but he quickly redeems himself by finding incredible depth and beauty in the music. The orchestra supports him well, especially in the close of the movement. Ashkenazy's tone is again a joy to listen to and when the music picks up he refrains from breaking the delicate mood. The connection to the third movement is exciting and thankfully, Ashkenazy changes hats at this point.

The third movement is about 1:10 faster than the Sokolov performance and this provides some urgency and drive. No, it doesn't suddenly become a fireworks dispaly, but the pianist clearly plays with more intensity and power than heard up to this point. At no point however, does he sacrifice his tone, nor does he try to overpower the orchestra. Instead, he sticks to his aristocratic style and does a solid job of finishing this work off. The pianissimo passages are special, chamber like in their intimacy. While the fortissimo passages by comparison sound like thunder from the heavens. One complaint that I have is that about the tension starts to sag about 4 minutes before the end and isn't really completely regained until the very end. The close is glorious, if lacking excitement heard elsewhere. As an example of a more delicate, refined interpretation, this recording excels. Ideally I would have liked depth and excitement, beauty and power, but this is simply not the case here. For this I will look to Janis's recording with Dorati next.


Janis/Dorati - This one is played with a small cut in the third movement and the shorter cadenza in the first. When the music began, it was immediately clear that I was listening to one of the great Rach 3's! Janis plays the opening theme with great care and impressive tonal shading. Its tender without being too soft. He takes this movement at a slightly faster than usual tempo, and for the most part the music is all the better for it. The orchestra is first rate throughout the work, never overpowering the talented soloist and working in synchronicity. Janis plays the softer, more poetic passages wonderfully in each movement. He doesn't stop there though, he also has the power and virtuosity to handle the more aggressive passages as well. This is why this is probably my favorite reading of this work-he doesn't sacrifice poetry for power, nor power for poetry. The overall mood here is elegant, but never boring, virtuosic without being crude and indulgent. Like Sokolov, Janis does an excellent job of organically transitioning from the more vulnerable sections to the bold ones. He plays the first movement cadenza with incredible urgency and authority.

Like the first movement, the second movement is slightly faster than usual, but it never sounds rushed. It is very well phrased by the conductor and superbly played by the orchestra. Although the tape shows its age near the end of the movement and tape hiss is evident at times, otherwise the 1961 sound is impressive. The performance is such that these small quibbles fall by the wayside. Janis's entrance in this movement is bold and strong, while later he produces beautiful tone in the lyrical passages. The close of the movement is spine-tingling and the finale begins!

When I wrote my original notes for this movement, every sentence ended with an exclamation point. This was because the speed and intensity of the performers was truly exciting! This is the way that I feel this finale should be played, with great forward momentum. Their rhythmic drive and excitement here was infectious. As in the rest of the work, the balance between the pianist and orchestra is superb, at no time do they drown him out. The closing bars are as powerful and urgent as one could hope for, as Janis, Dorati and the LSO knock this one straight out of the park! For the reasons stated above, I can easily say that this is one of the truly great Rach 3's, if not the greatest. The coupled Rach 2 is excellent as well and at mid-price, this disc is a no-brainer!


Horowitz/Reiner - After Janis's superb recording, I decided to investigate his teacher, Horowitz. Recorded in mono sound in 1951, this version is limited by the poor sound. Tape hiss is evident throughout and the orchestra is not captured well. Balance between orchestra and piano is variable, sometimes even, sometimes the piano is way too far out in front. The pianist plays the shorter cadenza with the cuts taken in the second and third movements. He plays the opening theme with less nuance than those previously reviewed, but not completely without beauty. Unfortunately, when its the orchestra's turn to play the theme, they are drowned out by the poor balance on the piano. Later, the balance improves, but this effect is strange here. Horowitz's playing in this movement is nervous, but technically solid. What I missed most here was the tenderness of Janis, Ashkenazy and Sokolov. Also, in the faster passages, he seems to skim the surface of this music and can't seem to convey the deeper aspects of this work. This is seen especially in the cadenza, where the softer section is played too fast and too loud. It ends well enough, but by now there's already quite a few flaws.

In the opening to the second movement, the poor sound again robs the orchestral passage of its inherent beauty. The mood is perfect however; dark and moody. Horowitz's entrance is strangely weak, lacking authority. Soon the piano again overpowers the orchestra. Luckily, though, Vladimir finds more tenderness in this movement. However, in the more extroverted passages, he is more adept at showing off how easily he can play the notes than he is at playing with any great depth of feeling. Strangely, taken by itself, his virtuosity didn't impress me much. This fact coupled with his lack of poetic style already sealed it for me that this was not a great performance. I listened on, however, and was impressed with the bold introduction to the third movement.

The finale was clearly where he is most at home, the faster tempos and more extroverted passages were played well. The orchestra plays well with him here, following him each step of the way. Together they create a strong, rhythmic drive that I feel is an essential ingredient to any performance of this music. Again though, Vladimir has trouble conveying the tenderness and vulnerability in the softer, slower sections. Moreover, the orchestra sounds like they were playing down the hall, a problem that is worst during the forte passages, where they just don't have much presence. Here and throughout this work, it sounded more like a rehearsal than a performance. Perhaps this is because of the cuts, but nonetheless what resulted was a choppy, pasted feel, one that is half a world away from the coherency of Askenazy/Fistoulari, where the entire movements came across as one complete thought. I know that this is considered to be one of the greats, but I just don't find much to shout about here. The Horowitz/Barbirolli recording on APR is another case, however, but that review will come later.


Gilels/Cluytens - A mono recording made in in 1956, EMI remastered it in 2006. As usual, EMI unfortunately reduces surface noise at the expense of some high frequency sound. I wish I had known this prior to purchasing this, but none of the reviews I read said anything but positive things about the sound. Luckily, there is a better transfer on Testament, but since I did not have it at the time of this review, the following comments apply to the EMI CD. Gilels plays this with the cuts and with the shorter cadenza. His timings are almost identical to Janis/Dorati, but unfortunately the orchestral accompaniment is much poorer. More on that later. Gilels plays the opening theme well, but not exceptionally well. i would have liked a bit more nuance. Boy, does he generate some great excitement in the passage that follows the orchestral statement of the theme. Here though, it is already clear that the strings will not have much of the presence of later recordings. Bryce Morrison calls the orchestral contribution "distant and run of the mill." To me, this costs them many points, as I have said before that this work is not just piano with a little bit of orchestra. Its a damn shame too, for Gilels plays this work better than I have ever heard it played. He doesn't miss one ounce of emotion in the music, with great depth he wrings every bit of pain and beauty from this work. He clearly has this work in the palm of his hand, something that is evident in his bigger than life performance of the cadenza that does not miss the slower, more vulnerable side of the music.

Played a bit faster than I like, there isn't any breathing room between phrases, though the mood is accurate. Gilels's entrance is both strong and poetic, as he clearly "gets" this music better than probably anyone. I know that the composer said that Horowitz played it better than he did, I wonder what he would have said if he had heard Gilels? The lyrical themes here ache with beauty in Gilels hands without deteriorating into triviality. Yet when power is needed, he is as strong as anyone, with incredible authority that never abandons musicality. I was moved to tears by his touching playing here. Then at about 8:30 in the second movement, the horns/winds started sounding like accordions. I had read that there was a pitch problem here and boy does it sound bad. Was there some edit that for some reason caused this mess? Luckily, the pianist soon saves the day again, with an incredibly powerful ending to the movement.

The finale has all of the strengths and weaknesses discussed earlier. Additionally, the piano is overpowered at points by the orchestra, which is a shame, for he has much more to say than they do. The piano sound is poorer here too, suggesting some editing from a different day? The strings in the concluding measures are downright painful to listen to. As you might have guessed, this is not the greatest overall recording that I have heard, which is sad because Gilels's pianism here is second to none - not even Rachmaninoff is better. However, this remains a concerto and without strong, clear, audible support from the orchestra, I cannot recommend it without reservation. If you are of another mind and can listen just for the piano, do not hesitate to get this disc and enjoy Gilels's spectacular performance.

I recently bought the Testament release of this performance and find it to be a better mastering. The sound is more open and sounds more natural.


Hough/Litton
- I debated for over a year before purchasing this set. After reading numerous great reviews and finally getting it on sale, the wait was over. Is this the greatest set of Rachmaninov concertos? Not in my opinion. As for this recording, Hough plays this with no cuts and the shorter cadenza. Its the one Rachmaninov used in his recording. Also like Rachmaninov, he chooses a fast tempo and plays the initial theme well, though not as well as the composer. Then the orchestra plays the theme and is sounds really rushed. They sound great, but the tempo is too fast, as there is no room for breathing between the phrases. The strings are beautiful sounding, I just wished that they had more invested in creating beautiful music and less investment in modeling their interpretation on the composers recording. Climactic moments are exciting, but for the most part this movement seemed plastic to me. The piano tone was shallow, something that resulted in a less "Russian" sound. In the cadenza, Hough blazes through with little time for depth. I have to say, the one real highlight here was the orchestra, especially the sound of those high strings.

The slow movement was superb. Perhaps it was recorded on a different night? It begins with great phrasing from the orchestra. Hough's entrance had much more style, depth and beauty than he found in the opening movement. In fact, his playing is also exciting when needed later on in the movement, without sounding rushed or glib. The piano and orchestra also generate much excitement for the opening to the finale but...

That's when things return to the 5pm rush of the first movement. I really wanted to yell "where's the fire?" but I knew they'd never hear me. Rather than being the triumphant march of victory I always loved about this movement, its sounds like they are running away from the battle instead. Don't get me wrong, Hough can play well and fast, but the tempo moves too fast for the emotional quality of this music to sink in. As it was earlier, the piano tone remains shallow and the pianist often seems merely to be showing off just how fast he can play this music. The closing measures find some nice excitement but here the piano sounds small and ineffective. Though the second movement is certainly a gem, there just isn't enough here to recommend this recording.


Argerich/Chially
- This was the second recording of this work that I bought and have heard this version of the work more than any other. She plays the work without the cuts sanctioned by the composer and with the shorter first movement cadenza. Her articulation is somewhat lacking in the opening theme, but the slower tempo she plays it at results in a much more deeply felt performance than the speedy Hough. In the passage that follows, she generates some incredible passion. It was at this point that I was suddenly reminded that this is what has been missing from the performances reviewed up to this point: white-hot, unbridled passion. I guess this is the quality that people either love or hate about this recording. I happen to belong to the former camp. This is not the only adjective that describes this performance, however. It is also a powerful, urgent reading with great beauty and depth. The strings convey the dark sadness in this movement with a gorgeous sound that was well captured by the Philips team. Like the Ashkenazy/Fistoulari reading, the overall structure is well understood and conveyed by the conductor here. This was certainly helped by the fact that it was played without cuts. Argerich's piano tone has incredible depth and richness, again well captured buy the engineering team, better than by the much more modern Hough recording. I regret the absence of the more intimate aspects of the music, but Argerich seems to more than make up for it in other areas already mentioned. The big climax in this movement was as powerful as could be desired and was followed by an even more earth-shattering cadenza. It really has to be heard to believed. I will only say that I wish she had built up the tension a bit slower, as she was already running out of the gate as it began, though it could be argued that this only makes it that much more exciting.

The second movement is taken at the usual pace, the strings sound sumptuous and tragic and the mood is nice and dark. Argerich's entrance is easily the best that I have heard. Her piano sounds big, bold and beautiful. As with Horowitz's reading, I would have liked some more pianissimo here, but everything else is splendid. As in the first movement, she is larger than life and the orchestra is right there with her, matching her intensity every step of the way. I couldn't help but sit in awe of the performers. They were clearly playing from the emotional core of this work, rather than standing outside it as so many others have done. They build up to finale excellently as well.

Argerich really plays the finale fast and therefore loses some articulation. However, in doing so, she sounds reckless or exciting, depending on your perspective. I found it exciting. I got the sense that she was caught up in the excitement of the moment/music. It did not seem to me that she was showing off in the way that Hough and some others came across and this made it all the more enjoyable to me. The audience noise increases in this movement, though up to here that had been almost perfectly quiet. The overall mood of the movement is wonderfully dark, beautiful and exciting so that all of these flaws easily fall away. I enthusiastically recommend this to anyone who would enjoy a live, emotional performance. Luckily I don't have to choose between this one and the Janis/Dorati recording - that would be a tough decision. By the way, if you don't like her performance at all, I would recommend Ashkenazy/Fistoulari for a more refined, yet still exciting approach.


Rudy/Jansons
- This is a modern recording, done in 1993, DDD. The sound is incredible, all orchestral parts are clearly audible throughout and the orchestra/piano balance is second to none. This is particularly special because the performance is equally stunning. Rudy plays with superb articulation and great beauty. His treatment of the opening theme is played slowly and benefits from the excellent balance when the orchestra plays the theme. As the movement continues, the performance is exciting, though perhaps lacking that last bit of drama heard in Argerich or Janis's readings. The impeccable playing by the soloist and the orchestra more than makes up for this, though. They convey all the rich beauty in the score with a refined style that is incredibly elegant and individual. Rudy surprised me in the cadenza, as he can sure tear up the keyboard as well when he wants to. It is as big, powerful and as moving as one could hope for. As the music softens in the gentle section halfway through, he effortlessly changes the mood, playing with great sensitivity and sumptuous tone.

The slow movement maintains this same level of excellence. The opening orchestral passage clearly benefits from the great sound. The strings sound heavenly and the music is gorgeously phrased by the conductor. Rudy's entrance may be less bold than others, but this is not a one-dimensional reading. I haven't heard anyone who produces such varied tonal shading and colors in this music. This does not mean that his performance lacks authority and weight, as can be seen in the extroverted closing passage that connects this movement with the finale. Here there is power and excitement to spare!

He takes the finale at about Argerich's tempo, but articulates the music so much better than she does. As in the rest of the performance, the execution is superb, with every note in place. Jansons and the orchestra provide the muscle while Rudy provides the heart and they work incredibly well together. My only reservation is that the movement could have had a bit more forward momentum, but in their defense, I should say that this was clearly in accordance with their overall conception of the work. This was a huge strength of theirs, they presented the work with such clarity. Each section seamlessly connected to the next, and like Ashkenazy/Fistoulari, presented the work as one complete, intelligible thought. If there had been a bit more forward momentum in the finale and a bit more urgency in the outer movements, this would be the best Rach 3 that I have ever heard. As it stands, I recommend this as top choice for a refined approach ahead of Ashkenazy/Fistoulari. Overall, I place Rudy/Jansons alongside Argerich/Chially, whose passionate approach sits at the other end of the spectrum, and Janis/Dorati, whose balanced interpretation sits between them.


Horowitz/Ormandy - I found this at the library and out of curiosity decided to check it out. It is his only recording without the cuts and he chooses the short cadenza. It was recorded live in 1978, but has a bit of editing that is sometimes obvious. He plays the first theme on the slow side and not particularly well. The following passage is played loudly, as the piano is placed too forward in the mix. When they can be heard, the orchestra does a splendid job here, providing excellent accompaniment and sure boasts much better sound quality than his recording with Reiner. There's also more tenderness in the solo part, more pianissimo in his playing. Unfortunately, the return of the opening theme is even less impressive, however, and the piano sounding so much louder sounds quite unnatural. The slower tempo does not agree with their heroic approach and it ends up sounding too slow. The audience noise intrudes on an otherwise thunderous cadenza. Unfortunately more is required here and Horowitz just doesn't deliver.

The slow movement's sound seems older than its age, though the playing is fine enough. Horowitz again lacks poetry here and after numerous coughs from the audience I began to think that their participation should have been credited in the liner notes.

The finale is unfortunately the worst of all. Horowitz's playing is downright sloppy. His rhythms are incredibly unnatural and thus sound strange. His authority here is strong, but the minuses considerably outweigh the pluses in this performance. Not recommended.


Volodos/Levine
- This is a live recording from 2000. You'd think that therefore, the sound would be impressive, but that just isn't the case. Its a bit distant, but more important its foggy, lacking the clarity of the Rudy's performance. The work is played without the cuts and the longer cadenza. Volodos has some poor articulation already in the opening theme, but otherwise plays it fine, if not memorable. As the movement continues it quickly becomes clear that he is over-careful with the music and this robs the performance of the excitement that could have been had. Levine doesn't help too much, his orchestra just isn't dark or "Russian" enough here. In spots, Volodos does get some powerful sounds out of his instrument, but overall he's too polite for my taste. The more muscular portions of the score were weak and although they were loud, they did not impress this listener. His cadenza was more impressive, but still lack any real degree of urgency and therefore was insufficient.

The opening orchestral passage was played well. The strings were wonderful, if restrained. Volodos's entrance is neither weighty, nor particularly confident. Like the first movement, he gets all the notes right, but misses the crucial emotional element. The closing section was too timid for these ears, and I wasn't looking forward to the finale.

Unfortunately I wasn't proven wrong. The playing is articulated well and played fast enough, but again it just wasn't exciting. This coupled with its lack of depth destroyed the beautiful passages and did not stir me in the more extroverted ones. It sounded more like a technical exercise than the poetic masterpiece that it is. In sum, this one was a big disappointment. I had read some good reviews so I thought I'd try it out, but I can't find nearly enough here to recommend this one. Not recommended.


Wild/Horenstein
- Chesky Records, better than the Chandos mastering, recorded in 1965. Played with the cuts in the second and third movement and the short first movement cadenza. As is the case in all three movements, the first is taken at a pace that robs this work of at least some of its lyricism. To me, this is a big error, but Wild certainly makes the most of it, playing with an electric energy and poetic feeling. Thankfully, he does not show off as Horowitz does and his tone is superb throughout. The orchestra, particularly the strings, are another highlight in this performance. Moreover, the orchestral/soloist balance was also done well by the engineers. Wild is restless and infectious in the cadenza, where his power really comes to the fore. During the softer section with the winds, his tone is impeccable, as he plays with a tenderness similar to Ashkenazy/Kondrashin.

The faster tempo proves to be even less effective in the slow movement, unfortunately. Wild's entrance is too receded into the mix and he strangely lacks confidence. He soon settles into a calm, lyrical mood that would have been much better conveyed at a slower tempo. As he continues, Wild's authority is impressive, as he plays some passages as if they were written for him. The connecting section is played with all the vigor and excitement as anyone could want. At this point, I felt that this performance could still be saved if the finale were spectacular.

Alas, it was not! Wild's pianism remains impressive, with great articulation and energy. Yet, the chemistry seems to drop off here, as the movement lacks any real emotional commitment. Without this, a Rachmaninov performance just doesn't work. All too often, the musicians skim the surface of the music, rather than seek the great depths that lie within. The closing section is played well, but as a whole there remains too many flaws for this to be a top-tier choice. Moreover, the sound of the performance is plagued by constant noise from the orchestra, something I found to be particularly a problem during pianissimo passages. Still, It sure beats the sound of Horowitz's recording with Reiner or the composers own recording, but taken into account with all of the other issues encountered, it certainly doesn't help. For a similar, but better executed, not to mention recorded, performance along these lines, played without the cuts at more sensible tempos, I recommend Argerich/Chially.


Pletnev/Rostropovich
- Played with only one cut, in the finale, with the larger first movement cadenza. It begins slowly, with an elegant and brightly toned main theme played on the piano. The orchestra is rather bland here, but thankfully the piano is too forwardly balanced to really hear them. The movement continues in rather understated fashion, rather suprising considering the performers involved. Each time they appear to really dig in and forge ahead, they pull back. When Pletnev restates the theme, he is far too detached. Its as if he's playing around with the notes rather than taking them seriously. When the big climax arrives, the piano sound strangely dissapears into the back of the mix. The cadenza begins ominously and builds to a big, full piano sound, yet the slower tempo robs it of any real excitement. The winds were sub-par here as well, though Pletnev played the softer passages beautifully.

The slow movement is taken at the average tempo and thus sounds too fast due to the slower tempo of the first movement. The strings sounded poor here, as the orchestra was not recorded nearly as well as the piano. Pletnev's entrance is delightfully sinister and he deftly transitions to a more introverted passage. Here he shines for the first time in this performance. Overall, this movement is far better handled than the first, as the performers brilliantly created the dark, mysterious mood of the music. Pletnev's emotional investment seems higher and his piano has more than enough weight when needed. Still, its not one of the best performances of this movement that I've heard, just much better than the opening movement. The ending of the slow movement is handled well. It's big, bold and powerful, with great sound.

The finale is another thing altogether. It really suffers from lack of excitement. I have read other reviewers say that it was the conductor Rostropovich who held things back and spoiled this performance. Certainly Pletnev does not turn in one of his best performances either. His playing is erratic and is phrasing is all too often unintelligible. Regardless of who is the bigger offender here, the music never really takes off. Without the requisite forward momentum, the performance falls flat. This of course is a terrible shame. You'd think that with a cast like this that the performance would be on a higher level, but that is not the case. Not recommended.


Ashkenazy/Previn - His second of four recordings of this work, Ashkenazy plays the entire piece without cuts and chooses the longer first movement cadenza. As the main theme begins, it is clear that this is an expansive reading, perhaps the most expansive on disc. The pianist plays the theme beautifully, however, with great tenderness. His tone, here and throughout, is superb. He clearly chooses poetry over power, and for the most part it works well. The balance between the orchestra and the piano is superb. The orchestra sounds great, with nice, big, clear sound. Their biggest fault is going over the top dynamically at more than a few moments. This is especially noticeable because the pianist plays in an incredibly understated manner throughout, plus his piano seems to be too distantly miked. His cadenza failed to impress this listener, as the slower tempos and softer dynamics robbed it of its impact.

The second movement begins with a well played, not to mention recorded, section by the orchestra. The strings sound especially vibrant, creating a nostalgic, if less than optimally dark, mood. Ashkenazy's entrance is less exciting than I prefer, but his tenderness is second to none. Again the orchestra provides superb, well balanced accompaniment. This movement is clearly the highlight of this reading and it concludes with great power and excitement.

The finale begins quite well, with the slower tempo allowing for better articulation from the pianist, though it is less exciting. Again, the orchestra sounds too loud on forte passages, but at softer moments the balance is impeccable. As before, the music is played with great clarity and beauty, especially at the more tender moments. The real problem in the end is that Previn and Ashy are on two different wavelengths. The pianist plays in a softer, more vulnerable style that is spoiled by Previn's muscular, over the top orchestra. Rudy/Jansons takes a similar approach that I feel works much better, mostly because the two styles, in their case, complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. While this reading has many good things going for it, I unfortunately cannot recommend it. In this case, I have to agree with the consensus, that Ashkenazy's best reading was his first, with Fistoulari.


Lill/Otaka - Recorded in DDD, in 1996, with the BBC Orchestra of Wales, this is the slowest account of this work that I have heard. The music often sounds as if its being played in slow motion. For example, the opening theme is stretched too far, leaving the melody to lose any sense of coherence. The balance between the piano and orchestra is great, but the piano sounds shallow and bass-light throughout this performance. All of the notes are clear and a tranquil, often too tranquil, mood results from the slower tempo. This is the first recording of this work that I have heard where the orchestra is the main highlight. Not that they were stellar, but next to the poorly recorded piano they sounded more beautiful that they would have had the paino conditions been different. Whenever the music picks up in the score, the musicians failed to deliver any real sense of excitement. This was a remarable feat, for I have never heard anyone play Rachmaninov with less fire, except for the coupled piano sonata 2 by Lill. Yes, this is a Rach 3 for the Easy Listening crowd. However, Rudy and Ashkenazy handle this style with more depth and greater power. Lill's cadenza sounds as if it were played without the bottom 2 octaves on the keyboard. Normally, I am more forgiving, but this is a 1996 DDD recording and it simply should sound much better! Lill tries to generate some excitement and when he fails to do so, he partially redeems himself in the softer section of the cadenza, where again, Rudy and Ashy do better.

The slow movement is the slowest of the 15 versions of this work that I own. The orchestral opening is nice, but I couldn't help but wish that they had found more depth at this slower pace. Lill's entrance more closely resembles a Chopin Nocturne than a Rachmaninov Concerto. Here it works better than in the first movement, but again the piano sound is poor, lacking the weight necessary to convey the emotion in the music. I wouldn't have minded Lill's one-dimensional performance if he excelled in his approach, but he doesn't. The connecting passage is performed better by the orchestra and I thus had high hopes for the finale...

Unfortunately, Lill and company failed to generate much excitement in the finale. The slow tempo, poorly recorded piano and overall lackluster performance capped off a forgettable experience. They certainly don't excel in their over-gentle approach and although there are some beautiful moments, I cannot recommend this recording, particularly because of the poorly performed coupling, Rachmaninov Piano Sonata 2.

The Lill was my first Rach 3 recording, aquired for $2.99 used in Manhattan. At the time I had a friend who absolutely loved this work. No matter how many times I heard the above CD, though, I couldn't get what was so great about it. However, after hearing Argerich, I got it immediately. Later I heard Janis and Rudy and discovered that this work has more than one dimension. This is the work that taught me the value of acquiring multiple interpretations. If I hadn't tried out other performances, I would never have grown to love this work as I do! Not recommended.


Gieseking/Barbirolli - Music and Arts - Performed in 1939, this was done without any cuts and with the bigger first movement cadenza. When the first movement began, I was aware that this was a unique performance. The tempo was slower than I have ever heard. I tried my best to adapt to the tempo, even listening on two different occasions, but I couldn't find a way to really appreciate this approach. The sound did not help, for the variable volume/pitch and noise level was distracting to say the least. One thing that was helped by the slow tempo was the intensity of the climactic moments. The effect was exhilarating! The second movement sounded fast by comparison, in fact I think they should have taken it quite a bit slower to balance with the first movement. Instead, they take it at an average tempo and again the sound robs the movement of much of it's beauty. The finale was probably the most successful part of this performance for me. Again there were some pitch issues, but the playing was excellent, even if the ending failed to really engage me. Overall, I would not recommend this one.


Gavrilov/Muti - Now available on a budget EMI Gemini two-fer, this performance was digitally recorded. From the start, it is clear that this is a lavishly romantic reading, something that works well for me, at least at first. The pianist and conductor are very much of one mind in this conception and the first movement comes off remarkably well. Gavrilov supplies a dark poetic touch when appropriate, but also has more than enough technique and muscle when called for. His treatment of the cadenza (he plays the less popular one that Rachmaninoff himself recorded) in the first movement was powerful and impressive. However, the climaxes in the first movement seemed to just appear out of nowhere, rather than grow organically out of the music as it did in other readings, such as Janis/Dorati. Muti seemed to be the one to blame for this aspect. Still, it was an excellent first movement.

The slow movement sounded too slow to me. Sometimes a slower tempo can emphasize things, other times it can drag the performance down, which is what it does here. Since there was some tension missing in the first movement, this slowing down does not come off well here, as it strips the movement of it's drama, having a slow-motion type of effect. Also, the huge dynamic shifts started to come across as schmaltzy and over the top to me. At this point, I thought it would take a brilliant finale to save this performance.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Though played fairly well and at a nice quick tempo, there just wasn't anything special about the performance. Moreover, some of the issues that plagued the earlier movements persisted here. So, overall this is not a terrible performance, but not one that I recommend either, not with the superb Janis/Dorati, Argerich/Chially and Rudy/Jansons recordings still in print and readily available. For a much more successful take along the lines of Gavrilov, I recommend the Sokolov performance that I reviewed in one of my first few posts. You can still download the performance using the link contained in the review.


Berman/Abbado LSO - I found this CD online recently and had to give it a try for this survey. I had read bad things, mostly that it lacked tension and excitement, but I had to hear for myself. It began slowly, quietly, gently with very refined playing. The music seems to be coming from a place too far away, suggesting that the microphones were too recessed during the recording. I also noticed that the piano tone sounded thin and that when the music was supposed to pick up, move forward or explode in climax it either didn't happen at all or it was significantly muted. Unexciting Rachmaninov is not something anyone should have to hear. Berman played all the notes and did not have any technical issues, yet this performance failed to move me at all. It was like Rachmaninov on Valium. Ironically, the only real excitement to be found came in the second movement. The finale was far too slow, plodding along without any apparent effort to generate some forward momentum or at least some fireworks. Not recommended.


Conclusion (for now) - Overall, I place three recordings at the top of the heap:

1. Janis/Dorati, whose balanced interpretation sits between Rudy and Argerich. If pushed, I'd probably say that this one is my current favorite.

2. Rudy/Jansons for a refined, poetic approach. As a bonus, it's in great sound and available dirt cheap through either EMI or Brilliant Classics.

3. Argerich/Chially, whose intensely passionate approach sits at the other end of the spectrum.


Still to be reviewed (hopefully soon) - Horowitz /Barbirolli and Santiago Rodriguez/McRae.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by smitty1931 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:09 am

Thank you for your interesting reviews of the Rach 3. My collection runs to about 20 versions. I hope you also review the Lugansky/Oramo, Berezovsky/Duchable, Gilels/Cluytens, Glemser/Wit, Wild/Horenstein, Lill/Otaka, Prats/Batiz, Rudy/Jansons, Simon/Slatkin and Shelly/Thomson.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:12 am

smitty1931 wrote:Thank you for your interesting reviews of the Rach 3. My collection runs to about 20 versions. I hope you also review the Lugansky/Oramo, Berezovsky/Duchable, Gilels/Cluytens, Glemser/Wit, Wild/Horenstein, Lill/Otaka, Prats/Batiz, Rudy/Jansons, Simon/Slatkin and Shelly/Thomson.
The one in bold I have already reviewed in this thread (see above.)

The others I may get to, but feel free to add your own reviews to this thread.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by hangos » Fri Sep 03, 2010 2:18 pm

You've done a brilliant job on this, I like your honest and balanced critique (I only wish most "professional" reviewers were so honest and balanced!)
My favourite is the Argerich/Chailly, which I have on CD but tend to watch more often on youtube (I only wish there was a DVD of this! It is the concert which the Philips engineers used for the CD release)It is, as you say, a deeply felt performance.
Here's the link to the best youtube posting of the concerto;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUkSqqwU1LU

Martha played like a demon in places and an angel in others. Chailly's facial expressions are very revealing ; that restrained introduction is very deceptive :D - just watch his face at around 2'54" !
Hope you enjoy this - it will certainly help other CMGers make up their minds!
Martin

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 2:53 pm

hangos wrote:You've done a brilliant job on this, I like your honest and balanced critique (I only wish most "professional" reviewers were so honest and balanced!)
Thanks very much!

People have been calling me honest lately and it somewhat surprises me. Not because I don't think I am honest, but because I feel i have always been honest. I was raised that way. I guess what has changed is that I am less harsh with my honesty these days. So now what was once a defect has become an asset.
My favourite is the Argerich/Chailly, which I have on CD but tend to watch more often on youtube (I only wish there was a DVD of this! It is the concert which the Philips engineers used for the CD release)It is, as you say, a deeply felt performance.
Here's the link to the best youtube posting of the concerto;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUkSqqwU1LU

Martha played like a demon in places and an angel in others. Chailly's facial expressions are very revealing ; that restrained introduction is very deceptive :D - just watch his face at around 2'54" !
Hope you enjoy this - it will certainly help other CMGers make up their minds!
Martin
Yeah, that smile tells it all. I don't know exactly why, but I love to watch performers who are visibly enjoying their performance. And he sure is enjoying that moment.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by stenka razin » Fri Sep 03, 2010 3:10 pm

George, what a sensational post. I really enjoyed reading your reviews of some very fine recordings, m8. Below you will see your list with a 4 star system next to the ones that I also have:


Argerich/Chially****+
Ashkenazy/Fistoulari***1/2
Ashkenazy/Previn****
Berman/Abbado***
Gavrilov/Muti***
Gieseking/Barbirolli
Gilels/Cluytens****
Horowitz/Ormandy***
Horowitz/Reiner****
Hough/Litton****
Janis/Dorati****
Lill/Otaka
Pletnev/Rostropovich***
Rachmaninov/Ormandy****++
Rudy/Jansons***
Sokolov/Ollila
Volodos/Levine**1/2
Wild/Horenstein***1/2

Regards,
Mel 8)
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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by josé echenique » Fri Sep 03, 2010 7:03 pm

My personal favorite among the modern recordings is the Argerich/Chailly, though I wouldn´t be so hard on the Volodos, personally, I prefer it to the Rudy.
Another recording almost never mentioned but that I especially love is the Shura Cherkassky on DECCA. It is obviously very late Cherkassky, an old man´s reading, but it´s a grand old man´s reading, with superb phrasing of the kind one rarely hears these days. And like many members of the Forum I was also quite impressed with the recent Matsuev/Gergiev

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by Chalkperson » Fri Sep 03, 2010 9:38 pm

You should write to Joel at Fanfare...seriously... :D
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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 9:50 pm

Chalkperson wrote:You should write to Joel at Fanfare...seriously... :D
I don't understand. Do you mean so I can write for Fanfare? Do they let people review what they want though? Or do you have to review what they want you to review?
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by Chalkperson » Fri Sep 03, 2010 9:53 pm

gperkins151 wrote:
Chalkperson wrote:You should write to Joel at Fanfare...seriously... :D
I don't understand. Do you mean so I can write for Fanfare? Do they let people review what they want though? Or do you have to review what they want you to review?
Write to him and find out...you write well and he needs new blood...tell him what you want to do, it's worth a try...
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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by dirkronk » Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:58 pm

Nice reviews, George. I agree with many of your observations...and certainly with your placement of Janis/Dorati in top tier. He did, of course, also do the 3rd for RCA with Munch/Boston, but that one doesn't really compete with the Mercury (now...if he'd done the work with Reiner/Chicago, we'd probably have had a much more serious competition).

The Rudy? I'll have to go back and give it a much more serious listen. I did two full run-throughs of the cycle back when I first got the set several years back, but there was something about it that just didn't strike me as impressive as I'd been expecting, based on the effusive reviews it had garnered. Your advocacy, however, convinces me that this may be a good time to drag it back out and hear it once more...starting with the 3rd, no doubt. As it is, I'll have to do a real comparison this time through against the Ashkenazy/Fistoulari 3rd!

Dunno. Odd as it may seem, at least in response to a well-done comparison, I find myself thinking back with (perhaps somewhat illogical) affection to performances that probably wouldn't make any serious cut with most listeners. Not just Rach's own, but other historic ones such as Kapell/MacMillan, Gieseking/Mengelberg...and of course the more recent Wild/Horenstein. Even with admitted flaws, sonic or performance-wise, each of these has contributed something to my appreciation of this piece. But that, of course, is my own preference in play, and poses no requirement for other listeners.

Oh...one more thing I agree with you about: I want to hear the Rodriguez/Macrae rendition for myself, after reading so much about it over the years. Find it fast and add it to your reviews here, why don't you!
:wink:

Cheers,

Dirk

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 11:07 pm

dirkronk wrote:Oh...one more thing I agree with you about: I want to hear the Rodriguez/Macrae rendition for myself, after reading so much about it over the years. Find it fast and add it to your reviews here, why don't you!
:wink:

Cheers,
Dirk
Ha ha!

If it's as good as his solo Rachmaninov, it should be excellent. :)

I wanna hear the Horowitz/Coates first, though. Maybe I'll try to do both this weekend.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by stenka razin » Sat Sep 04, 2010 5:18 am

gperkins151 wrote:
dirkronk wrote:Oh...one more thing I agree with you about: I want to hear the Rodriguez/Macrae rendition for myself, after reading so much about it over the years. Find it fast and add it to your reviews here, why don't you!
:wink:

Cheers,
Dirk
Ha ha!

If it's as good as his solo Rachmaninov, it should be excellent. :)

I wanna hear the Horowitz/Coates first, though. Maybe I'll try to do both this weekend.

George, the Horowitz/Coates performance is a scorcher. You probably will like it, if you do not mind the antiquated sound. As far as Fanfare, I agree that you would make a wonderful addition to the staff at that august journal. Go for it and call Joel, please, m8. 8)
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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Sat Sep 04, 2010 8:28 am

Image

I have read that this is the performance of the Rach 3 to own. I am interested to hear if anyone thinks it is worth getting and how it compares to the recordings listed above...

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Thu Sep 16, 2010 7:44 am

Image

I finally managed to pick up a copy of the Rodriguez/McRae at a reasonable cost - it arrived today. WOW!!! He is in the zone the whole way through. The sound has a strange drop out near the end and there are quite a few off stage noises but this recording stunned me - he can play with real feeling and has an amazing ability to clearly articulate notes in the fastest of runs. The run of leaping chords towards the close of the final movement brings real excitement and the fast passage in the second movement is superb. Excuse me for gushing but if you love the Rach 3 please try to hear this!

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 9:33 am

arthound wrote:Image

I finally managed to pick up a copy of the Rodriguez/McRae at a reasonable cost - it arrived today. WOW!!! He is in the zone the whole way through. The sound has a strange drop out near the end and there are quite a few off stage noises but this recording stunned me - he can play with real feeling and has an amazing ability to clearly articulate notes in the fastest of runs. The run of leaping chords towards the close of the final movement brings real excitement and the fast passage in the second movement is superb. Excuse me for gushing but if you love the Rach 3 please try to hear this!
Yeah, his solo Rachmaninoff work is superb!

I still need to get to his Rach 3.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by slofstra » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:52 pm

George, when you say "without the cuts" does that mean cuts have been made or cuts have not been made in the score?

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:58 pm

slofstra wrote:George, when you say "without the cuts" does that mean cuts have been made or cuts have not been made in the score?
I am not sure about that. When I say without the cuts, I mean without the cuts found in other recordings.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:50 pm

gperkins151 wrote:
arthound wrote:Image

I finally managed to pick up a copy of the Rodriguez/McRae at a reasonable cost - it arrived today. WOW!!! He is in the zone the whole way through. The sound has a strange drop out near the end and there are quite a few off stage noises but this recording stunned me - he can play with real feeling and has an amazing ability to clearly articulate notes in the fastest of runs. The run of leaping chords towards the close of the final movement brings real excitement and the fast passage in the second movement is superb. Excuse me for gushing but if you love the Rach 3 please try to hear this!
Yeah, his solo Rachmaninoff work is superb!

I still need to get to his Rach 3.
That is actually one of my favourite versions...
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:47 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
gperkins151 wrote:
arthound wrote:Image

I finally managed to pick up a copy of the Rodriguez/McRae at a reasonable cost - it arrived today. WOW!!! He is in the zone the whole way through. The sound has a strange drop out near the end and there are quite a few off stage noises but this recording stunned me - he can play with real feeling and has an amazing ability to clearly articulate notes in the fastest of runs. The run of leaping chords towards the close of the final movement brings real excitement and the fast passage in the second movement is superb. Excuse me for gushing but if you love the Rach 3 please try to hear this!
Yeah, his solo Rachmaninoff work is superb!

I still need to get to his Rach 3.
That is actually one of my favourite versions...
Now I must hear it!

Will do so over the weekend.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by ch1525 » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:11 am

I heard Santiago Rodriguez's Rach 3 on the radio one evening and I was simply enraptured. I couldn't get over how great it was from someone I had as of yet never heard of with a conductor I never heard of and and an orchestra I never heard of! I put in an order for that CD that night.

I've since found many other Rach 3 recordings I love, but his remains near the top.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Fri Sep 17, 2010 4:57 am

ch1525 wrote:I heard Santiago Rodriguez's Rach 3 on the radio one evening and I was simply enraptured. I couldn't get over how great it was from someone I had as of yet never heard of with a conductor I never heard of and and an orchestra I never heard of! I put in an order for that CD that night.

I've since found many other Rach 3 recordings I love, but his remains near the top.
Hi Chad

I'm interested to hear what else is near - and at - the top of your list....

Cheers,
Justin

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Sun Sep 19, 2010 7:38 pm

Santiago Rodriguez/McRae - Having loved much of Rodriguez’s recordings of solo Rachmaninov, I wanted to give his Rach 3 a try. The first thing I noticed was the distant miking on this live recording, something I have never liked, for everything sounds too far away, no matter how loud it is played. It also created a somewhat blurry sound that didn’t help the performers. This recording was made in 1997 and the sound really should have been a lot better. The second thing I noticed was a great deal of extraneous noise. Whether onstage or in the audience, the mikes unfortunately did great job at capturing every noise that occurred during the performance, which leads me to believe that perhaps the miking wasn’t distant, but it was just a murky mix. In any case, it sure didn’t help convey the performance in a positive light. Rodriguez plays the opening theme in a rather fast tempo, close to the composers own recording of this work. I personally prefer a slower tempo here, as it tends to bring out the beauty and mystery in the long, chain-like opening theme. The orchestra, here and throughout the recording, are nothing to write home about. This is the biggest flaw in this recording and it is a big one. I kept wanting more power in the climaxes and more synchronicity between the soloist and orchestra. Not that Santiago was perfect by any means, for with all of his technical expertise, he lacks a more emotional style that conveys the more tender moments. For every instance of impressive power and authority there was another where I just couldn’t connect emotionally with what he was doing. The second movement was the most successful for the pianist, but unfortunately things didn’t really heat up enough in the finale and I was left feeling unsatisfied. Though for the most part this can probably be credited to the orchestra, not to mention the sound, the end result was a recording that I cannot recommend.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Mon Oct 11, 2010 6:31 pm

gperkins151 wrote:Santiago Rodriguez/McRae - Having loved much of Rodriguez’s recordings of solo Rachmaninov, I wanted to give his Rach 3 a try. The first thing I noticed was the distant miking on this live recording, something I have never liked, for everything sounds too far away, no matter how loud it is played. It also created a somewhat blurry sound that didn’t help the performers. This recording was made in 1997 and the sound really should have been a lot better. The second thing I noticed was a great deal of extraneous noise. Whether onstage or in the audience, the mikes unfortunately did great job at capturing every noise that occurred during the performance, which leads me to believe that perhaps the miking wasn’t distant, but it was just a murky mix. In any case, it sure didn’t help convey the performance in a positive light. Rodriguez plays the opening theme in a rather fast tempo, close to the composers own recording of this work. I personally prefer a slower tempo here, as it tends to bring out the beauty and mystery in the long, chain-like opening theme. The orchestra, here and throughout the recording, are nothing to write home about. This is the biggest flaw in this recording and it is a big one. I kept wanting more power in the climaxes and more synchronicity between the soloist and orchestra. Not that Santiago was perfect by any means, for with all of his technical expertise, he lacks a more emotional style that conveys the more tender moments. For every instance of impressive power and authority there was another where I just couldn’t connect emotionally with what he was doing. The second movement was the most successful for the pianist, but unfortunately things didn’t really heat up enough in the finale and I was left feeling unsatisfied. Though for the most part this can probably be credited to the orchestra, not to mention the sound, the end result was a recording that I cannot recommend.
Hi George.

I agree with a lot of the points in your review - esp. about the sound and the orchestra. However I still rank this one highly - particularly amongst 'live' versions. I don't mind the fast tempo for the opening and I find that his playing is just plain exciting - a personal response of course!

For a great orchestral experience in this work I find this recording to be superb - newly remastered and a serious rival to Ashkenazy's first recording:

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by stenka razin » Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:02 am

On October 26th, the great Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes CD of the Rach #3 will be released. Considering how supurb he was in Rach #1 and #2, with Antonio Pappano and the Berlin Phil on EMI, the new recording which also has the Rach #4 should be a contender. Pappano and the London Symphony are Andsnes partners.

Has anyone heard this CD yet? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)


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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:31 am

arthound wrote: Hi George.

I agree with a lot of the points in your review - esp. about the sound and the orchestra. However I still rank this one highly - particularly amongst 'live' versions. I don't mind the fast tempo for the opening and I find that his playing is just plain exciting - a personal response of course!

For a great orchestral experience in this work I find this recording to be superb - newly remastered and a serious rival to Ashkenazy's first recording:

Image
Hi arthound!

I have heard good things about the Ashkenazy/Ormandy from some and complaints of tone from others.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by Steinway » Tue Oct 12, 2010 4:22 pm

George..

Thank you for those beautifully analytical reviews.

I was fortunate to hear Rachmaninoff play the concerto in Philadelphia in 1940 and the sound, needless to say, was superior to the recording. A thrilling and memorable experience for me, as was his recital in 1940.

Of my many recordings of the 3rd, I have to put the Argerich/Chailly at the top of my list, if for nothing else than than sheer excitement and passion of the performance.

I did hear a live performance of the concerto at Tanglewood by Yefim Bronfman that left me breathless. How sad that it wasn't recorded because he just owns this work.

The suggestion about your contacting Fanfare is right on. :)

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:50 pm

Cliftwood wrote:George..

Thank you for those beautifully analytical reviews.

I was fortunate to hear Rachmaninoff play the concerto in Philadelphia in 1940 and the sound, needless to say, was superior to the recording. A thrilling and memorable experience for me, as was his recital in 1940.
Wow, that must have been incredible!

You are very welcome.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Sun Oct 17, 2010 9:48 pm

gperkins151 wrote:
arthound wrote:
For a great orchestral experience in this work I find this recording to be superb - newly remastered and a serious rival to Ashkenazy's first recording:

Image
Hi arthound!

I have heard good things about the Ashkenazy/Ormandy from some and complaints of tone from others.
I have the early CD edition with the 'Butterfly' cover and Ashkenazy's tone does sound metallic to my ears - but I wonder how much the recording is at fault and am interested to hear how it plays out in the new remastering shown above that I have just ordered from JPC. Ormandy's conducting and the orchestra are superb IMO.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:35 pm

Ormandy is da man!

Please keep us posted on the sound of that new CD.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by rogch » Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:26 am

Cliftwood wrote:
I did hear a live performance of the concerto at Tanglewood by Yefim Bronfman that left me breathless. How sad that it wasn't recorded because he just owns this work.
Bronfman has recorded it with Esa-Pekka Salonen and it has been one of my favourite recordings ever since i firtst heard it. There is a live performance on DVD as well, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. I belive i saw it on TV, but it didn't make much of an impression. But if you buy the DVD and you can hear the performance on your stereo the sound will be much better. That could make a difference.

Ashkenazy and Previn is another favourite. For some reason, i do not like the Argerich/Chailly recording. It is a little difficult to explain why. This was the first recording i heard so i thought i did not like the work. But then i heard other recordings and liked those. Perhaps i should listen to the Argerich recording again. I have given it many tries, but i haven't listened too much to Rachmaninov lately.
Roger Christensen

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by slofstra » Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:56 am

rogch wrote:
Cliftwood wrote:
I did hear a live performance of the concerto at Tanglewood by Yefim Bronfman that left me breathless. How sad that it wasn't recorded because he just owns this work.
Bronfman has recorded it with Esa-Pekka Salonen and it has been one of my favourite recordings ever since i firtst heard it. There is a live performance on DVD as well, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. I belive i saw it on TV, but it didn't make much of an impression. But if you buy the DVD and you can hear the performance on your stereo the sound will be much better. That could make a difference.

Ashkenazy and Previn is another favourite. For some reason, i do not like the Argerich/Chailly recording. It is a little difficult to explain why. This was the first recording i heard so i thought i did not like the work. But then i heard other recordings and liked those. Perhaps i should listen to the Argerich recording again. I have given it many tries, but i haven't listened too much to Rachmaninov lately.
The Ashkenazy was the only recording I had for many years, and I still like it quite a lot also. What I always disliked about the Argerich recording is that the faster sections seemed to my ears to be an uncontrolled frenzy. The synchronization with the orchestra also seemed lacking. It strikes me that I place a great deal of emphasis on the latter quality, perhaps at the expense of virtuousity and pianism. It strikes me as a rare thing to really hear the orchestra and piano playing as one. I believe the Volodos recording displays this quality, and it is currently my favourite of the 10 or so versions I have. However, on the Argerich, listen to her playing in the slower passages and the command and confidence displayed. That has brought up this recording in my estimation.
It would be a worthwhile project to go through all my recordings of the Rach 3 once more as the ear is better trained as one listens more. One's mental conception of the ideal changes too; I noticed listening to an old favourite Brahms PC 2 recording that I just found certain passages taken too slowly and that hadn't bothered me before. Anyway, I think the systematic evaluation of the Rach 3's will have to wait; it seems too much like work. Who knows which version I definitively like the most at this point in time; perhaps a delightful muddle is the best way to have things.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by maestrob » Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:27 pm

It strikes me as a rare thing to really hear the orchestra and piano playing as one. I believe the Volodos recording displays this quality, and it is currently my favourite of the 10 or so versions I have.
That's because Levine is clearly the better conductor, with tighter control.

I agree with you that this is a fine version, but you might want to try Howard Shelley's set as well, which stands as a very fine if under-appreciated modern recording on Chandos. If you love Rachmaninov as I do, then you'll want Shelley's complete set of the solo music as well: pricey, but definitive and very individual interpretations in glorious sound.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by stenka razin » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:33 pm

stenka razin wrote:On October 26th, the great Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes CD of the Rach #3 will be released. Considering how supurb he was in Rach #1 and #2, with Antonio Pappano and the Berlin Phil on EMI, the new recording which also has the Rach #4 should be a contender. Pappano and the London Symphony are Andsnes partners.

Has anyone heard this CD yet? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)


Image
George and my fellow CMGers,

The Andsnes CD is finally being released in the USA as well as the rest of the world. I will state that this recording is at or near the top of Rach 3's. It is very exciting performance and beautifully played. Has anyone heard it yet, besides me? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)
Image

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by gperkins151 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:54 pm

stenka razin wrote:
stenka razin wrote:On October 26th, the great Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes CD of the Rach #3 will be released. Considering how supurb he was in Rach #1 and #2, with Antonio Pappano and the Berlin Phil on EMI, the new recording which also has the Rach #4 should be a contender. Pappano and the London Symphony are Andsnes partners.

Has anyone heard this CD yet? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)


Image
George and my fellow CMGers,

The Andsnes CD is finally being released in the USA as well as the rest of the world. I will state that this recording is at or near the top of Rach 3's. It is very exciting performance and beautifully played. Has anyone heard it yet, besides me? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)
A friend on another site heard it and loved it, but I haven't heard it. I am on a CD buying fast for a month or two.
George

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by slofstra » Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:19 pm

maestrob wrote:
It strikes me as a rare thing to really hear the orchestra and piano playing as one. I believe the Volodos recording displays this quality, and it is currently my favourite of the 10 or so versions I have.
That's because Levine is clearly the better conductor, with tighter control.

I agree with you that this is a fine version, but you might want to try Howard Shelley's set as well, which stands as a very fine if under-appreciated modern recording on Chandos. If you love Rachmaninov as I do, then you'll want Shelley's complete set of the solo music as well: pricey, but definitive and very individual interpretations in glorious sound.
I hadn't even noticed it was Levine. I've noticed that his recorded work is excellent - for example, a Fidelio DVD I purchased not long ago. I'd be willing to take a flyer on the Shelley CD based on your comments.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by maestrob » Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:35 pm

Image

Leif Ove Andsnes recorded Rach III fifteen years ago when he was first starting out in Oslo, and it's long been a sleeper in my collection, an excellent and very mature performance.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by arthound » Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:35 am

gperkins151 wrote:Ormandy is da man!

Please keep us posted on the sound of that new CD.
Image

Hi George

It arrived today. To my ears the sound is significantly warmer in this new remastering. The piano sounds more integrated into the orchesta but still has a slightly metallic tone - although if I had heard this on its own without the previous remastering to compare it to I don't think I would have singled out Ashkenazy's tone as much. The thing I find interesting about this performance is the way that it often sounds like a symphony with piano obbligato - similar to Brahms PC2. This should be credited to Ormandy's superb conucting and Ashkenazy's willingness to not hog the limelight. I got mine from JPC at a good price and I have just seen it on Amazon marketplace for around $3.50!

Best,
Justin

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by stenka razin » Thu Nov 04, 2010 11:30 am

arthound wrote:
gperkins151 wrote:Ormandy is da man!

Please keep us posted on the sound of that new CD.
Image

Hi George

It arrived today. To my ears the sound is significantly warmer in this new remastering. The piano sounds more integrated into the orchesta but still has a slightly metallic tone - although if I had heard this on its own without the previous remastering to compare it to I don't think I would have singled out Ashkenazy's tone as much. The thing I find interesting about this performance is the way that it often sounds like a symphony with piano obbligato - similar to Brahms PC2. This should be credited to Ormandy's superb conucting and Ashkenazy's willingness to not hog the limelight. I got mine from JPC at a good price and I have just seen it on Amazon marketplace for around $3.50!

Best,
Justin

Ditto, I just ordered the Ashkenazy/Entremont/Ormandy Sony UK reissue. I had both recordings on Lp and am thrilled to be able to hear them again on CD. Thanks for the heads up. 8)
Image

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by ch1525 » Wed Nov 10, 2010 12:22 am

stenka razin wrote:George and my fellow CMGers,

The Andsnes CD is finally being released in the USA as well as the rest of the world. I will state that this recording is at or near the top of Rach 3's. It is very exciting performance and beautifully played. Has anyone heard it yet, besides me? 8)

Regards,
Mel 8)
I have just listened to it tonight and I was quite blown away. I really enjoyed it! He plays the ossia cadenza extremely well. I thought the tempi were just right if not a little off the beaten path in a few spots. I could hear Leif breathing a bit more than I would care for, though! :?

All in all, I really recommend this one. I felt like he was taking chances and not holding anything back. That is what I feel this concerto calls for.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by slofstra » Wed Nov 10, 2010 9:52 am

maestrob wrote:
It strikes me as a rare thing to really hear the orchestra and piano playing as one. I believe the Volodos recording displays this quality, and it is currently my favourite of the 10 or so versions I have.
That's because Levine is clearly the better conductor, with tighter control.

I agree with you that this is a fine version, but you might want to try Howard Shelley's set as well, which stands as a very fine if under-appreciated modern recording on Chandos. If you love Rachmaninov as I do, then you'll want Shelley's complete set of the solo music as well: pricey, but definitive and very individual interpretations in glorious sound.
Last night I ordered Howard Shelley's Rach 2 & 3 CD on the strength of your recommendation. The price was very reasonable. I also ordered the Rach 1&2 and Rach 3&4 with Andsnes and Pappano.

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by maestrob » Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:31 am

slofstra wrote:
maestrob wrote:
It strikes me as a rare thing to really hear the orchestra and piano playing as one. I believe the Volodos recording displays this quality, and it is currently my favourite of the 10 or so versions I have.
That's because Levine is clearly the better conductor, with tighter control.

I agree with you that this is a fine version, but you might want to try Howard Shelley's set as well, which stands as a very fine if under-appreciated modern recording on Chandos. If you love Rachmaninov as I do, then you'll want Shelley's complete set of the solo music as well: pricey, but definitive and very individual interpretations in glorious sound.
Last night I ordered Howard Shelley's Rach 2 & 3 CD on the strength of your recommendation. The price was very reasonable. I also ordered the Rach 1&2 and Rach 3&4 with Andsnes and Pappano.
Enjoy :!: :D

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Re: The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3 Project

Post by MaestroDJS » Wed Dec 08, 2010 11:44 am

If you really want to get inside this music, here is a fascinating 1983 master class in 14 parts by Jorge Bolet with pianists Ira Levin, USA; Jose Feghali, Brazil; Philip Smith, UK; Marc-Antionio Barone, USA; Wolfgang Manz, Germany and Barry Douglas, UK



Fascinating. In a post-master-class interview, BBC announcer Robin Ray asked Jorge Bolet how he responded to criticism that perhaps sometimes he let his virtuosity deviate from the Urtext. Bolet did not accept that criticism, and insisted that he had the greatest respect for the printed score. He explained that the composition process, the creative process, was one of the great mysteries of the arts. However, a composer might spend a month on a piece of music, or 3 months, or a year, and then move on to something else. By contrast, Bolet said he had studied certain pieces of music for his entire lifetime. It sounds presumptuous, but in certain cases, he might understand a piece of music better than the composer himself. It is a bold statement, but with a great deal of truth.

The 14 parts are also separately indexed here:

http://www.forte-piano-pianissimo.com/J ... class.html
This 1983 Jorge Bolet Masterclass featuring the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto N° 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 is in 14 parts. It delves deeply into many pianistic and interpretive aspects of the work and is well worth taking the time to listen to in its entirety.

Bolet is an articulate teacher and is concert-ready to play the passages he wants to demonstrate to the students, all of whom are very accomplished pianists and piano competition winners.

One of these, Barry Douglas, is a Tchaikovsky Competition winner (1986) and has made many fine recordings, including one of the Rachmaninov third concerto with Yevgeny Svetlanov conducting the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. (More about this CD at ArkivMusic.com)
I like Bolet's casual comment at the end of the finale to Barry Douglas: "Not an easy piece, is it?"
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