There are many factors that contribute to a great and worthwhile album; the actual performance (in this case by orchestra and soloist) is obviously important, but also significant is recorded sound quality, programming, interesting and informative liner notes, and (although less important) nice packaging doesn't hurt, either. This CD of Rachmaninov's First and Fourth piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini gives listeners all of these things. The liner notes provide an exceptionally useful timeline highlighting the chronology of two concertos, showing where revisions were made and when the final version emerged relative to the initial sketches. The Orchestre Philharmonique de l'Oural does a superb job of providing a lush and sensual backdrop for all three works heard here.
Noriko Ogawa and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra return to the works of Rachmaninov with a disc featuring his first and fourth piano concertos and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Rachmaninov’s first concerto was written while he was a student at the Moscow Concervatory, but underwent considerable revisions up to 1917.
David Hurwitz on Symphony No. 3 & Symphonic Dances
One of the great Rachmaninov recordings ever made, these accounts of the Third Symphony and Symphonic Dances by Mariss Jansons and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic recall the heady days of Mravinsky and the (then-named) Leningraders at their finest–only in top-quality sound. The whiplash strings in the second movement of the Symphonic Dances, hair-trigger discipline in the same work's outer movements, and the razor-sharp modernity that Jansons brings to the Third Symphony all combine to make this reissue irresistible. There are too many memorable moments to list here, but the central section of the Third Symphony's slow movement, full of mordant wit, and the rhythmically thrilling ending of the Symphonic Dances come immediately to mind. If you missed this issue the first time, don't let it pass by again. It belongs in every serious record collection. [5/7/2004]
Vladimir Ashkenazy's way with the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto noticeably mellowed in the years between his blistering 1963 premiere recording on Decca with Kirill Kondrashin and this 1986 reading. That's not to say it became mushy or dull, but it is certainly heavier, characterized by a prevailing darkness that calls to mind Stravinsky's description of Rachmaninov as a "six-foot scowl." Ashkenazy's rich tone and emphatic phrasing assures an overall somber cast, while Bernard Haitink draws similarly-countenanced playing from the Concertgebouw Orchestra–the low strings especially. However, there is a respite from the gloom in the quite touching rendition of the lyrical slow movement.
Concerto No. 4 is supposedly a lighter work, but it's hard to tell in Ashkenazy's equally stern reading. Again he summons robust tone from his instrument and manages to make the first movement's main theme sound uniquely grim. For his part, Haitink heightens the drama with threatening horns in the second movement. Even so, the performers render the brighter finale with the requisite zest. Decca had only recently begun recording in the Concertgebouw, and it shows in the sound's abundant reverberation and early digital glare. Still, the sense of space and sonic bulk communicated by the recording matches the performances, and for some listeners this will be preferable to the dynamically limited sound of Ashkenazy's interpretively superior 1970s renditions with André Previn.Victor Carr, Jr., Classics Today
In what used to be called the West, Sviatoslav Richter's best-known and best-loved recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto was the 1962 recording on Deutsche Grammophon with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Symphony. In what used to be called the East, Richter's best-known and best-loved recording of Tchaikovsky's First was this 1958 recording on Melodiya with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's classic recordings of the Ravel G major and Rachmaninov G minor concertos have never been out of the catalog since they first appeared more than 40 years ago. Surface and style are one in this music, and the Italian pianist remains unsurpassed for his icy precision and micro-detailing. He brings pinpointed elan to Rachmaninov's sizzling cross-rhythms in the Fourth Concerto's Allegro Vivace movement, as well as laser-like concentration to the tartly lush Largo. Few have matched Michelangeli's nuance and color in the Ravel concerto, and his seamless dispatch of Ravel's "singing sword" effect in the opening movement belies the notion that you can't bend notes on a piano.