BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

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Rach3
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BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by Rach3 » Sat Aug 01, 2020 9:27 am

British composer William Mival’s 5 favorite Rachmaninoff recordings starting about 30:00 in to this Aug.1,2020, BBC Radio 3 Record Review :

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000lgsw

The 1971 recording by Van Cliburn/Ormandy/PO of the Paganini Variations notable to me for the interesting left-hand voicing VC brings out at the beginning of the 18th Variation before the orchestra re-enters.Other works are the Cello Sonata,2nd Symphony, Op.23 Preludes Nos.7 and 5, and 2nd Piano Concerto.

maestrob
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by maestrob » Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:01 pm

I grew up with Rachmaninoff's favorite orchestra in Philadelphia, and my parents owned several recordings of his music on 78's. Ormandy's recording of the Second Symphony with the Minneapolis Symphony made just before he was appointed music director in Philadelphia to succeed Stokowski was one of them. Rachmaninoff worked extensively with Ormandy to revise the first movement, making cuts particularly in the first movement that tightened the forward momentum and improving the impact of the music. This recording has never been made available on CD TMK, but Ormandy re-recorded the work twice for Columbia with the same cuts in place, once in the early 50's in mono for LP release, and then again in the early 1960's when stereo LPs began to be issued by the major labels. He made a later recording for RCA when Ormandy switched to that label in 1969, finally restoring the cuts that Rachmaninoff had approved earlier. For the record, I still prefer the version with strategic cuts that Rachmaninoff approved. Luckily, both stereo recordings are still in print, so you can compare for yourself by listening on amazon.

The Philadelphia Orchestra had an excellent relationship with the composer in his heyday, and Rachmaninoff's own recordings with Stokowski and Ormandy in his concertos remain essential listening for me. Rachmaninoff also conducted his Third Symphony, The Isle of the Dead and Vocalise with the Philadelphians for RCA, (but not his Symphonic Dances) in the decade before his death in 1943. IIRC, the Symphonic Dances and the First Symphony were not recorded by a major orchestra until Ormandy set them down on LP in the early 1960's, although there existed at the time a recording of the First Symphony on an obscure label in monophonic sound.

That said, both Rubinstein and Van Cliburn made superb early stereo recordings of the Second Concerto with Reiner/Chicago for RCA, while Van Cliburn recorded the Third Concerto with Walter Hendl /Chicago, still, IIRC, incorporating the composer-sanctioned cuts also used by Horowitz in his mono recording the first and third movements. Strangely, Rubinstein never recorded the Third Concerto, perhaps due to its relative obscurity at the time.

Thus, for me, these recordings remain definitive, and Ormandy remains the ultimate authority on Rachmaninoff through his recordings and by his early close association with the composer.

Since then there have been some very successful recordings of the concertos, including Howard Shelley and Leif Ove Andsnes, but success with the symphonies has eluded other conductors, at least to my ears. The Symphonic Dances have grown in popularity: David Zinman and Andrew Litton have both produced fine examples. Most conductors allow the tam-tam to fade away slowly, but Rachmaninoff deliberately did not put a fermata over the last eighth note, or write L.P. in the score, so Ormandy correctly cuts it short, which is more difficult for the percussionist, and Litton and Zinman are the only two that I know of that follow Ormandy's correct reading of the score. I should also give honorable mentions to two more recent recordings of the Third Concerto that open the composer's own cuts, both live recordings: Volodos/Levine in Berlin (the roar of approval from the audience at the end is glorious) and Sokolov in Salzburg, one of that pianist's rare approved concerto releases on DGG.

As for the Paganini Variations, I grew up with Leonard Pennario's electrifying reading with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Pennario's reading is a bit lighter than Ormandy's rather stodgy version with Van Cliburn from the same era, and I prefer both Rubinstein/Reiner and Pennario/Fiedler to Ormandy's stereo recording. YMMV, of course! I met Pennario much later in life at the New York Athletic Club in the mid-1980's, and he avowed to me that working with Fiedler was one of his happiest experiences as an RCA artist, and that the Paganini Variations was one of his favorite recordings.

Happily, the once-obscure Cello Sonata has now become a repertoire staple. Three of my favorites are by Weilerstein, Schiff, and Capucon.

As for the Vocalise, Anna Moffo's recording of the piece with Stokowski which I bought after hearing her sing at my middle school graduation, remains definitive for me. Moffo graduated from my high school in 1952: we shared the same music teacher, who appeared with her on the Mike Douglas show in Philadelphia when I was about 16. Had a mad crush on her at the time, although we never met until years later, and I was too shy to have much of a conversation.

As for Rachmaninoff's solo piano music, Boris Giltburg has so far recorded a magnificent disc of the 24 Preludes, and a disc of the Etudes-tableaux and other works. Howard Shelley's set of the complete works has a few idiosyncratic moments, but I find it powerful and very moving. Ashkenazy's set is rather bland by comparison IMHO, but it has its finer moments as well.

So, that's my take on Rachmaninoff for now. :)

Rach3
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by Rach3 » Sat Aug 01, 2020 5:16 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:01 pm
I grew up with Rachmaninoff's favorite orchestra in Philadelphia, and my parents owned several recordings of his music on 78's. Ormandy's recording of the Second Symphony with the Minneapolis Symphony made just before he was appointed music director in Philadelphia to succeed Stokowski was one of them ...
Same here my parents as to 2nd Sym. Alas, I did not save theirs.As I recall, 2nd Sym. on RCA , 12 sides , must have weighed at least 5-7 lbs.In 1968 or 1969 I was in Northrup Auditorium,Minneapolis, ( whose acoustics were allegedly one reason Ormandy left Minneapolis ) when he returned to conduct the Minneapolis Symphony for the FIRST time since he left for Philadelphia ( 1936 ? ) !! What an event.First half was Strauss' " Don Juan" and "Heldenleben", after intermission, the Rachmaninoff 2nd.A lady next to me was in tears during the slow mov, ; the audience exploded at the end. Ormandy had to lead the concertmaster off the stage after many bows.

The Rubinstein/Reiner 2nd Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody are wonderful, amazing given the two reportedly did not get along well during the recordings ,Rubinstein vowing never to perform with Reiner again; and he did not.The Cliburn/Reiner 2nd has wonderful playing by Cliburn , but the CSO almost absent.

Do try to hear Sergio Fiorentino's 60's recording of the Preludes,on APR now I believe, as well as Constance Keene, originally my Phillips lp set ( she was Abram Chasin's wife,although she a much better pianist ).And of course Richter in the Preludes and Etudes,although he did not record all, John Ogdon as well in the complete Etudes (Testament now ) , and Ogdon's extraordinary recording of the piano sonatas, originally my 1968 RCA lp.The 1st Sonata is one of my desert island works.

The Symphonic Dances is for me the composer's " best " orchestral work. BBC Radio 3 has abroadcast next Friday,Aug.7, of a past Proms in which the Berlin Phil. under Rattle play it, a performance that got many raves.

Thanks for your insights.

maestrob
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by maestrob » Sun Aug 02, 2020 2:08 pm

Just to complete my recommendations posted above......

I ran out of time, so wanted also to muse a bit about Rachmaninoff's greatest compositions for voice as well. First and foremost, Rachmaninoff wrote four CDs worth of superb songs. Luckily for collectors, his complete oeuvre has finally been recorded and issued on CD for the first time, and is available for streaming on amazon. While occasionally the singers are not quite the best in all repertoire, it's still an important issue, and there is much neglected great music here:

Image

Finally, Rachmaninoff wrote a stunning Vespers, which received its first recording in the 1960's, issued here on Angel/Melodiya. There was a briefly available but incomplete version of this recording put on CD in the 1990's, but that one quickly disappeared, and it was not in the best sound, having been made from a running master for the LP release. Thankfully, the original master tapes have finally been found in Russia and were remastered to perfection a few years back and released internationally on CD. While other good versions of this masterpiece exist, notably by Robert Shaw, none have the authenticity and the awesome Russian basses that Sveshnikov inspires. No wonder he was considered Russia's greatest choral conductor. Here are the both the CD covers and the original LP set as well, available for streaming on amazon:

Image

Image

One last comment: Rachmaninoff's attempts at opera have been recorded, but while lovely, they are not his best work, and have failed to inspire any great enthusiasm.

Holden Fourth
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by Holden Fourth » Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:20 pm

Richter ruined every other pianists interpretations of the Preludes and Etudes for me - even Moisewitsch. I also find it hard to go past his PC #2.

maestrob
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by maestrob » Mon Aug 03, 2020 9:58 am

Holden Fourth wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:20 pm
Richter ruined every other pianists interpretations of the Preludes and Etudes for me - even Moisewitsch. I also find it hard to go past his PC #2.
Holden, it's been so long since I've heard Richter's Rachmaninoff Concerto II, that I don't remember it, believe it or not. Not at all sure why it didn't impress me. Perhaps the conducting? I will give it a listen again, and comment later. I know I have his complete DGG recordings, so it's got to be in there somewhere. Certainly, Richter reigns supreme in Rachmaninoff's solo works that he recorded and in nearly everything else, although there are some clunkers in the Black Box of live radio concerts in Moscow and on the Eurodisc label. Also, I'm not a fan of his Dvorak Concerto with Kleiber. Like every great artist, he had occasional off days. No disrespect intended, of course! Every great soloist must, during their career, sometimes surrender to poor conducting. Listen to Giltburg's Rachmaninoff Concerti on Naxos, and you'll hear what I mean.

As well, I've been craving this single for years: now is the time to acquire it, isn't it?

Image

I sure wish Richter had recorded more complete Rachmaninoff, including Concerto III, but he wasn't made that way. was he? :)

maestrob
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by maestrob » Mon Aug 03, 2020 11:20 am

OK. Just finished listening to Richter's DGG recording with Witold Rowicki conducting. Here's my take:

I don't know whose idea it was to start the concerto off so slowly, but the tempo drags terribly in the opening bars, and Richter plays so softly at the beginning of the crescendo that you can barely hear him. For my taste, the effect is quite exaggerated, and unnecessarily distracting from the buildup of tension necessary for the opening. After a few bars, the tempo becomes more acceptable, but for me the effect is lost. The rest of the movement is passable, but not great in the orchestra. Richter's playing is fine, of course, but the accompaniment doesn't give him the support he needs, IMHO.

The second movement feels weak to me also, due to varying tempi that are often just too slow to support the musical tension needed to bring out the beauty of the development. As well, the orchestra sounds so hushed that the melody doesn't sing out where it should. OTOH, the last movement is just a bit too fast, but I can accept that because Richter easily handles the tempo and his playing is quite electrifying. I don't agree with it, but it still works, so that's OK.

Of course, I'm prejudiced because I'm so accustomed to Rubinstein, Van Cliburn and Rachmaninoff's own playing, I freely admit that. Richter's very individual interpretation is quite different and doesn't quite gel with my own conception of the concerto. I also think that if Richter had worked with a more solid conductor, things would have turned out better. Rowicki's tendency is to hold back his players so that the orchestra can't sing out. YMMV, of course. It's all a matter of taste, which is a very individual thing.

Incidentally, the Prokofiev V which fills out the CD is absolutely great, one of the finest performances I've ever heard.

Richter also recorded Rachmaninoff II for Melodiya, which I have not heard, I think. I'll give that one a try soon:

Image

Finally, I haven't yet heard Trifonov's recently well-received recordings of the concerti with Yannick Nezet-Seguin in Philadelphia, something I must do soon. I wonder, has anyone here heard them yet, and what's your impression? Perhaps Ricordanza, you've heard them in concert? Just wondering...... :?:

slofstra
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Re: BBC Record Review-Five Rachmaninoff works

Post by slofstra » Mon Aug 03, 2020 7:55 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:01 pm
I grew up with Rachmaninoff's favorite orchestra in Philadelphia, and my parents owned several recordings of his music on 78's. Ormandy's recording of the Second Symphony with the Minneapolis Symphony made just before he was appointed music director in Philadelphia to succeed Stokowski was one of them. Rachmaninoff worked extensively with Ormandy to revise the first movement, making cuts particularly in the first movement that tightened the forward momentum and improving the impact of the music. This recording has never been made available on CD TMK, but Ormandy re-recorded the work twice for Columbia with the same cuts in place, once in the early 50's in mono for LP release, and then again in the early 1960's when stereo LPs began to be issued by the major labels. He made a later recording for RCA when Ormandy switched to that label in 1969, finally restoring the cuts that Rachmaninoff had approved earlier. For the record, I still prefer the version with strategic cuts that Rachmaninoff approved. Luckily, both stereo recordings are still in print, so you can compare for yourself by listening on amazon.

The Philadelphia Orchestra had an excellent relationship with the composer in his heyday, and Rachmaninoff's own recordings with Stokowski and Ormandy in his concertos remain essential listening for me. Rachmaninoff also conducted his Third Symphony, The Isle of the Dead and Vocalise with the Philadelphians for RCA, (but not his Symphonic Dances) in the decade before his death in 1943. IIRC, the Symphonic Dances and the First Symphony were not recorded by a major orchestra until Ormandy set them down on LP in the early 1960's, although there existed at the time a recording of the First Symphony on an obscure label in monophonic sound.

That said, both Rubinstein and Van Cliburn made superb early stereo recordings of the Second Concerto with Reiner/Chicago for RCA, while Van Cliburn recorded the Third Concerto with Walter Hendl /Chicago, still, IIRC, incorporating the composer-sanctioned cuts also used by Horowitz in his mono recording the first and third movements. Strangely, Rubinstein never recorded the Third Concerto, perhaps due to its relative obscurity at the time.

Thus, for me, these recordings remain definitive, and Ormandy remains the ultimate authority on Rachmaninoff through his recordings and by his early close association with the composer.

Since then there have been some very successful recordings of the concertos, including Howard Shelley and Leif Ove Andsnes, but success with the symphonies has eluded other conductors, at least to my ears. The Symphonic Dances have grown in popularity: David Zinman and Andrew Litton have both produced fine examples. Most conductors allow the tam-tam to fade away slowly, but Rachmaninoff deliberately did not put a fermata over the last eighth note, or write L.P. in the score, so Ormandy correctly cuts it short, which is more difficult for the percussionist, and Litton and Zinman are the only two that I know of that follow Ormandy's correct reading of the score. I should also give honorable mentions to two more recent recordings of the Third Concerto that open the composer's own cuts, both live recordings: Volodos/Levine in Berlin (the roar of approval from the audience at the end is glorious) and Sokolov in Salzburg, one of that pianist's rare approved concerto releases on DGG.

As for the Paganini Variations, I grew up with Leonard Pennario's electrifying reading with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Pennario's reading is a bit lighter than Ormandy's rather stodgy version with Van Cliburn from the same era, and I prefer both Rubinstein/Reiner and Pennario/Fiedler to Ormandy's stereo recording. YMMV, of course! I met Pennario much later in life at the New York Athletic Club in the mid-1980's, and he avowed to me that working with Fiedler was one of his happiest experiences as an RCA artist, and that the Paganini Variations was one of his favorite recordings.

Happily, the once-obscure Cello Sonata has now become a repertoire staple. Three of my favorites are by Weilerstein, Schiff, and Capucon.

As for the Vocalise, Anna Moffo's recording of the piece with Stokowski which I bought after hearing her sing at my middle school graduation, remains definitive for me. Moffo graduated from my high school in 1952: we shared the same music teacher, who appeared with her on the Mike Douglas show in Philadelphia when I was about 16. Had a mad crush on her at the time, although we never met until years later, and I was too shy to have much of a conversation.

As for Rachmaninoff's solo piano music, Boris Giltburg has so far recorded a magnificent disc of the 24 Preludes, and a disc of the Etudes-tableaux and other works. Howard Shelley's set of the complete works has a few idiosyncratic moments, but I find it powerful and very moving. Ashkenazy's set is rather bland by comparison IMHO, but it has its finer moments as well.

So, that's my take on Rachmaninoff for now. :)
An interesting read. I haven't immersed myself in a lot of Rachmaninov for a while now. Probably overdid it a few years ago. I agree with your comments on the symphonies. I have only a few recordings and was underwhelmed. However, I did hear Tugan Sokhiev, one of my favourite conductors, lead the BPO in a rendition of the second symphony that was very good. Also, I should dig out the Andsnes recordings of the concertoes again.

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