- The Unashamed Romanticism of Sergei Rachmaninov [Recommended Recordings]
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Sergei Rachmaninov
Recommended Recordings

"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music."

Bells Opus. 35/John of Damascus
(Moscow State Chamber Choir; Marina Mescheriakova, Sergei Larin, Vladimir Chernov)
Rachmaninov allegedly considered The Bells to be his best work, and it is not difficult to hear why. The soloists are superb, but the real star is the Moscow State Chamber Choir.

Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos
(Sviatoslav Richter; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Symphony Orchestra; Stanislaw Wislocki and Herbert von Karajan, conducting)
Although the late Sviatoslav Richter spent his later years concentrating on Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn, he never completely abandoned the music of his native country. His reading of Rachmaninov's most popular concerto, captured in fine late-'50s stereo, is one of the most glorious ever recorded. Richter's amazing technique is completely up to the demands of Rachmaninov's difficult writing, and he plays the heart-on-sleeve melodies with such refined intensity that they never sound sentimental. This performance is a truly amazing example of great pianism, very strongly supported by the fine orchestra and its little-known conductor. Unfortunately, the accompanying Tchaikovsky is a dud. Karajan and Richter recorded this work together as a favor to a record-company executive, but they don't seem to be in sympathy. The conductor's excessive refinement holds the pianist back, and the result is much too restrained for the music. Never mind. The Rachmaninov alone is easily worth the price of this disc. (review by Leslie Gerber)

Symphony no 2
(Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra; Kurt Sanderling, conductor)
This powerful, subjective reading, recorded in Berlin in 1956 when Sanderling and the Leningrad Philharmonic were on tour, has long been one of the classics of the catalog. It harks back to a different era both in its expressive urgency and in the notably flexible manner in which tempo is treated: an era in which passionate, spontaneous, all-out playing was a characteristic of many of the world's greatest musicians, nowhere more than in Russia. Sanderling and the Leningraders impart a high profile to the symphony's many moods, so that the contrast between the gloom of the first movement's introductory Largo and the heart-on-sleeve lyricism that comes later is quite telling. The climaxes are incandescent, but their heat comes less from surface activity than from the pressure of a deep sense of gloom, a fatal undertow, that pervades the entire performance; the connection with Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony No. 6 is abundantly clear. Although the sound is monaural, the overall balance and dynamic range are quite impressive. The only drawback is a cut about 10 minutes into the finale that makes the symphony's exultant conclusion seem oddly premature. (review by Ted Libbey)

(Vladislav Tchernushenko; St. Petersburg Capella)


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