Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

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rogch
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Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by rogch » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:13 am

Recently there was an interview with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in Gramophone where he talked about his new recordings of Rachmaninov's third and fourth piano concertos. And he had some interesting things to say about the fourth. He thought it was much better than its reputation and that it was strange that this concerto is less played. For me, these points of view are interesting. One of the first classical records i bought was Rachmaninov's second and fourth piano concerto with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Bernard Haitink. Back then i did not know too much about classical music so i had not heard that the second was supposed to be better than the fourth. And i really enjoyed both of them.

The playing on this disc is of course very good, and the orchestra is just as impressive as the pianist, not least in the fourth concerto. And Andsnes talked about the orchestral part of this concerto and said it was exctremely difficult. He has recorded this concerto with Antonio Pappano and has also played it with Gustavo Dudamel. He said both conductors agreed that this concerto was one of the biggest challenges they had faced. And this brings me back to Ashkenazy and Haitink. This is still my favourite recording of the fourth concerto. There may be even more spectalular pianists out there (Michelangeli comes to mind), but the accompanists can not match Haitink and the Concertgebouw on the records i have heard. There are a number of recordings i have not heard though.

I think the importance of the accompanists is often underrated. Often i read a review of a concerto recording and at least 75% of the review is about the soloist. But the orchestra and conductor can be just as important, at least in some concertos.
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maestrob
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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by maestrob » Mon Nov 08, 2010 12:32 pm

Agreed.

Good conducting can make or break an excellent soloist. Gieseking's concerto recordings in the 1930's (other than Beethoven) were marred by poor conducting: as was Prokofiev's own recording of his Third Concerto. Sometimes, a weak conductor has to give in to a pianist's virtuosic tendencies, and the result is that the orchestra cannot either play fast enough or turn very sharp corners the way a solist can, ending up with what sounds like sloppy playing.

Decisions made in rehearsal with a strong conductor and soloist who both understand that the conductor needs to have the last say on tempo questions result in a better concert/recording, IMHO. Listen to both Reiner's and Szell's concerto recordings for good examples of what I'm talking about: both were superb partners with soloists.

The same guidelines should be followed in opera conducting, btw.

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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by diegobueno » Mon Nov 08, 2010 2:43 pm

The opening of the 4th concerto is a real tongue-buster for the winds. They're expected to tongue some very fast repeated-note triplets for an extended period of time and, except for the solo piano, they're all by their little lonesome so they can't hide. The winds in the Ashkenazy/Previn recording I have sound like they're just barely keeping up.

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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by John F » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:18 pm

maestrob wrote:Gieseking's concerto recordings in the 1930's (other than Beethoven) were marred by poor conducting
The conductor in three of those recordings was Hans Rosbaud, whose reputation and later recordings (some also with Gieseking) make one wonder if he can really have conducted so badly in his earlier years. Seems at least as likely that the Berlin State Opera ensemble he conducted was underrehearsed and not so good to begin with, though much cheaper than the Berlin Philharmonic.

As for the Prokofiev 3rd, who was Piero Coppola to tell the composer that he was playing his own piece too fast? The London Symphony Orchestra was not the crack ensemble it is today, and I don't know whether the recording followed performances by the same forces, so again it may have been that the players just weren't up to it. Personally, I'd rather hear Prokofiev play the piece at his own tempos, even if the accompaniment is scrappy, than at more comfortable tempos that he didn't really want. And in a composer's recording, I disagree as forcefully as possible that anybody else should have the last say!
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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by Lance » Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:04 pm

I have many recordings of the Rach 4 including most of the integral sets. On LP, I always enjoyed the Previn/Pennario performance—on RCA Victor—of both, Nos. 1 and 4. Only The Pennario PC No. 1 has been reissued on CD, in Japan [RCA 38475], coupled with Rachmaninoff's Symphony #2 in E Minor, Op. 27. The Royal PO is conducted by Previn. I am patiently awaiting the possible reissue of No. 4 w/Pennario. The Michelangeli recording for EMI still probably is the most famous stand-alone performance.
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maestrob
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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by maestrob » Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:32 am

John F wrote:
maestrob wrote:Gieseking's concerto recordings in the 1930's (other than Beethoven) were marred by poor conducting
The conductor in three of those recordings was Hans Rosbaud, whose reputation and later recordings (some also with Gieseking) make one wonder if he can really have conducted so badly in his earlier years. Seems at least as likely that the Berlin State Opera ensemble he conducted was underrehearsed and not so good to begin with, though much cheaper than the Berlin Philharmonic.

As for the Prokofiev 3rd, who was Piero Coppola to tell the composer that he was playing his own piece too fast? The London Symphony Orchestra was not the crack ensemble it is today, and I don't know whether the recording followed performances by the same forces, so again it may have been that the players just weren't up to it. Personally, I'd rather hear Prokofiev play the piece at his own tempos, even if the accompaniment is scrappy, than at more comfortable tempos that he didn't really want. And in a composer's recording, I disagree as forcefully as possible that anybody else should have the last say!
Well, Prokofiev's recording of his Third Concerto is a landmark, but the feel of it is scrappy, to say the least. Szell's recording with Graffman is decidedly better at shaping the piece, and co-ordinating the orchestra and soloist, while preserving the tempi in the score. Musical ideas have shape, and those ideas only work properly if the conductor is in charge. I'm prejudiced, of course. :lol:

Composers are often weaker at interpreting their own music than those who conduct for a living. Copland made a great recording of The Tender Land (truncated, to be sure), but he freely admitted that Bernstein's recordings of the Third Symphony and Appalachian Spring were better than his own, a verdict I agree with. As well, Walton's own recording of the First Symphony doesn't measure up to, say, Previn's or Bryden Thomson's.

As for Rachmaninov IV, well, Earl Wild's excellent rendition works best for me at the moment, surprisingly enough, although I haven't heard the new Leif Ove Andsnes yet.

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Re: Rachmaninov's 4th and the importance of the accompanists

Post by slofstra » Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:44 am

The Rach 3 is a bit of hodge-podge but somehow it all works, whereas the 4th doesn't seem to work as well. If I remember, the sections are briefer than in the 3rd, and there are more frequent turns in the composition. The Michaelangeli performance seems to do the piece justice. I look forward to see what Andsnes has done with it.

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