Rachmaninov / Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 2 - Rubinstein / Ormandy
Dutton CDLX 7336
Classical - Orchestral
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2
Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Artur Rubinstein (piano)
The Philhadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - March 11, 2017
A disc of wonderful performances where the age of the recordings sadly tells.
Of this first batch of Dutton's reissue of quadraphonic recordings, this release is arguably the most important musically & historically. The Rachmaninov is accompanied by a conductor that worked intensively with that great composer pianist, setting down recordings of the first, third and fourth concertos together (Stokowski had the honours for the second and Paganini Rhapsody) - all showcasing in miraculously good sound for the time, what became known as the Philadelphia Sound. Rubinstein played the Saint-Saens to the composer himself and was a dedicatee of Faure's, thanks to his tireless advocacy of his work.
One of a tiny handful of Rachmaninov's output that Rubinstein played, this performance glows with the spirit of the Golden Era from beginning to end. At no point is Rubinstein shamelessly playing to the gallery but equally his performance belongs in the same company as that of the composers and is similarly paced to Ashkenazy's famous account (Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos & Paganini Rhapsody - Ashkenazy, Previn). Stephen Hough's "spring clean" of this work on Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos (complete) - Stephen Hough is worth tracking down too but it lacks the aristocratic feeling imparted by Rubinstein here. And the Philadelphia Sound? In the closing coda of the Rachmaninov, this is glorious - one only wishes tape had been around for the composer himself.
The Saint-Seans concerto is given a good, if not outstanding reading here. Sadly there is little in the way of competition, Rubinstein himself in a much-feted earlier recording (Franck, Liszt, Saint-Saens: Piano concertos - Rubinstein, Wallenstein) and Anna Malikova (Saint-Saëns: The Piano Concertos - Malikova, Sanderling) with an "off air" account from Gilels (Saint-Saëns: 3 Concertos - Gilels, Rostropovich, Grumiaux). Compared to his younger self (and his Rachmaninov), there are a tiny number of moments of fragility of playing in the scherzo where one senses the mind is willing but cannot command the fingers quite as prodigiously as before. Strangely presented at a higher level than the Rachmaninov, the recording here is more noticeably comprised above the stave but the sheer persuasiveness of the playing just about carries the day.
The de Falla is again a remake of justly famous account that the pianist set down in his younger days (Rachmaninov: Paganini Rhapsody, Falla: Nights in the Garden of Spain - Rubinstein, Reiner, Jorda). Naturally, this recording doesn't sound as smoothly as Falla: The Three Cornered Hat etc. - Pons but more than makes up for itself in the atmosphere of the playing and conducting which really are on another level altogether. It's just a shame that the recording doesn't live up to the standards of the musicianship.
The aural picture is slightly odd and in comparison to the miracles that Pentatone served up in the their RQR series, a little disappointing. That is almost entirely due though to the storage of the tapes and the decisions of the original engineering team that places the listener on the podium with the orchestra spread out around them when listening in MCH. The age of the tapes reveals itself mainly in the upper registers of the instruments, so that there is a slightly unpleasant edge a lot of the time. This is to those seeking wonderfully musical playing, of little concern but there are better recorded more sterile accounts available on SACD and lo-res mediums. As those familiar with Dutton's other work will know, any technical short-comings are not theirs.
Although not a demonstration disc from the perspectives of the engineering art form, there can be no doubt that this is musically important and, above all, satisfying to listen to repeatedly - the performances (like Rachmaninov's) transcend the limitations the recordings place on the performers.
Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net