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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff

  • Piano Concerto #2
  • Piano Concerto #3
Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1929)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (1940)
Dutton CDVS1915
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I think the Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto is one of the finest pieces of classical music ever. It far surpasses the Tchaikovsky 1st. Now for choices to be made from the available (more-or-less) options. Given three current copies (RCA, Naxos and Biddulph) I own do I need this one? In a review of the concertos #1, 4 and Paganini Rhapsody, however, in the American Record Guide, Don Vroon commented on a vastly improved sound so I decided to give it a whirl. The first was remastered by Ward Marston and at that time were the best. The next two were by Mark Obert-Thorn. The RCA and Naxos were quickly ruled out because the surface noise became white-noise that made listening impossible. The Biddulph was an improvement. There was some surface noise but it soon became unnoticeable and I was able to enjoy this music as only the composer could render its amazing Romantic flow and the deep sonority of the Philadelphia Orchestra with details from some of the finest soloists in the world.

(Is that a tuba providing a bass beat at 6:00 into the first movement? Or is the sound just tubby? On the Dutton release the sound is more distant and difficult to decide whether tuba or bass.)

The above quire leads me to the Dutton release remastered by Michael Dutton. It is amazing how different these separate issues are in sound. Not only is the matter of surface noise an issue it is also reflected in decisions that affect changes in balances, inner detail, depth of perspective. As for surface noise there's nothing to talk about because there ain't any on the Dutton CD. Even the sound of the piano is different; almost bell-like in the Dutton which provides the most engaging sound of all. Put succinctly, there is no better recording of this music, period. I found myself feeling like I was listening to the music for the first time. If you must have up-to-date sound no one comes closer than Lugansky on Warner.

As for the third, well it's not the second. The composer's performance is imbued with Romanticism and a Russian flavor no one really can surpass. While Ormandy is no Stokowski it is still Stokowski's orchestra. If I have any quibble it's that I wish Dutton had put both Stokowski performances on the same disc. The CD insert neither has information about the Second Piano Concerto nor any about the remastering process.

Copyright © 2012, Robert Stumpf II