Mats Lidström is that rare thing, an original musician. The sheer mercurial energy which drives his performances can be both engaging and disturbing, but there is always a searching intelligence at work. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra lost much when its compelling, if unpredictable, lead cellist departed. These two concertos show him at his persuasive best, bringing lesser known works to life. Kabalevsky’s 1964 Concerto stretches and yawns with slow pizzicato before springing into urgent life. Sub-Shostakovich in its motifs and tonality, it is nevertheless well-constructed and uses the saxophone to great effect. In both Allegro movements Lidström achieves a lightning speed and attack and, though Raphael Wallfisch’s recording on Nimbus has a more solid beauty of tone, the Swede’s nervous anticipation makes up for the thinner sound of his Grancino cello. Khachaturian’s 1946 Concerto would make a wonderful soundtrack to a cinematic faux-Oriental extravaganza, with its twisting major and minor intervals, and almost sleazy chromaticism. Lidström really knows how to swing, and makes the most of the memorable melodies.
Rachmaninov’s rarely heard, and unfinished opera, Monna Vanna is recorded here in a newer edition by Gennadi Belov and led by Vladimir Ashkenazy, an iconic artist and expert in Russian music. This recording of Monna Vanna is a world première recording of the sung Russian version – the language in which Rachmaninov originally intended the opera to be performed.
Alessandro Corbelli takes the title role in Annabel Arden’s whirlwind production of Puccini’s compact opera, in which the scheming Gianni Schicchi retrieves for himself the spoils of a disinherited family to pave the way for his daughter to marry her love. As performed at Glyndebourne, Gianni Schicci is here combined in a double bill with Rachmaninov's dark setting of Alexander Pushkin's 'little tragedy'. The Miserly Knight, also directed by Annabel Arden and featuring an outstanding performance from Sergei Leiferkus in the role written for the great Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin.
The Rachmaninov Piano Concertos performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by André Previn are among the most iconic recordings in the Decca Classics catalogue. For the first time in over 40 years, the recordings have been remastered in ultra-high quality 96kHz 24-bit audio at Abbey Road Studios.
Vladimir Ashkenazy's love of Rachmaninov's music is evident not only on the keyboard, but also at the podium. His conducting of Rachmaninov's music is absolutely first rate, with an ample mix of passion and precision. I am certain that these fine recordings undoubtedly helped raise his stature as a noteworthy conductor. Under his direction, Bernard Haitink's Concertgebouw Orchestra gives distinguished, technically perfect performances steeped in emotion. Their level of playing is superior to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's under Lorin Maazel's baton (Maazel and the BPO recorded a set of Rachmaninov's symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon around the time of Ashkenazy's recordings.). The best performance of Ashkenazy's Rachmaninov cycle has to be that of the Second Symphony, but the others, especially those of the tone poems, are almost as good too. Of course, Decca's sound engineers did a wonderful job capturing the Concertgebouw's (the orchestra's hall, that is) warm acoustics. If these aren't the definitive recordings of Rachmaniov's symphonies, then they ought to be.
The appeal of this release hinges more on its sound quality than on the quality of its well-known and excellent performances. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound very good. One can more or less hear Richter – details of articulation occasionally get lost, inner voices are sometimes obscured, and bigger sonorities are often opaque – but he sounds like he's miles away. One can hear Sanderling and the USSR Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra only faintly when they're quiet, somewhat better when they're louder, and all too well when they're really loud. There have been better releases of these recordings in the past – many listeners prefer the 1995 BMG-Melodiya issues – and there will likely be better releases in the future. This one's not worth it except for Richter specialists who have to have every release of every performance Richter ever recorded.
Barbara Bonney's recital of the Schumanns' songs is prefaced, in the booklet-note, with a little feminist homily from the singer defending the reputation of Clara as woman and artist. Clara hardly needs that kind of defence nowadays, witness recent CDs by Skovhus and Stutzmann, plus several others not reviewed in these pages; her songs are far from patronized, let alone neglected. Yet, for all the advocacy of these singers, her inspiration remains for me intermittent, though thoroughly conventional songs are occasionally leavened by notably individual ones, such as, here, her very last and unpublished song, Loreley, which vividly conjures up that dangerous creature, particu lady in the hectic piano part, evocatively played by Ashkenazy. Indeed it seems that Heine most inspired her, as "Sic liebten sich beide" from her Op. 13 provoked a setting of economically intense meaning, to which Bonney finely responds.– Gramophone [9/1997].