Russia is vast, and so is this 25-disc tribute to the great piano school of Russia-from the long-famous icons to the more recent inheritors of this ineffably proud tradition. Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lazar Berman and many others display their subtly various approaches to phrasing and timbre as they perform the great works of the Russian canon and composers across Europe.
This is a wonderful collection of all the great composer's known works, and is a must buy for anyone who enjoy's Rachmaninoff. While most of the recordings are not perhaps the absolute best that are out there, they are all still, for the most part, quite good. The only real issues I can find with this set are two rather small ones. On the recording of the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, there is an odd static-like sound that starts at about 17 minutes into the piece, which then disappears briefly, before reappearing once more. It is rather irritating, especially considering that the rest of the recording is very nice.
…Although little known in the West, never having toured or recorded there, Sofronitsky was held in the highest regard in his native land. Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels looked up to Sofronitsky as their master, and famously, when Sofronitsky once drunkenly proclaimed that Richter was a genius, in return Richter toasted him and proclaimed him a god. Upon hearing of Sofronitsky's death, Gilels was reputed to have said that "the greatest pianist in the world has died."…
Eduard Ivanovich Bagdasarian was a key figure in the modern development of Armenian music, and his piano works have a unique importance in an oeuvre which covered almost every genre. The tremendously varied 24 Preludes encompass all of the major and minor keys with the added colour of Armenian modes. This mastery of miniature forms contrasts with the impassioned and ambitious Rhapsody, while the archetypally Romantic Nocturne draws on the tradition of the great Russian Adagio.
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].
Along with the increasing frequency that Josef Suk's Symphony in C minor, Op. 27, "Asrael," is performed and recorded, it's great to see it has finally been released as a hybrid SACD. Though the legendary 1952 recording by Vaclav Talich remains the ne plus ultra for devotees of this searing symphonic requiem, it was recorded in mono, and by virtue of its technology has become a historical document that will be sought out mostly by aficionados. Newcomers to Suk's towering work will be aided in appreciation by the fact that Ondine's DSD recording is as clear and deep as always, and none of the details of the elaborate score are lost.