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.
The Prague Philharmonic choir join over a dozen others who have recorded Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, a work once thought the special property of the Russian choirs who are, of course, prominent in the lists. The Czechs sing it without a cantor, and more as a concert work than some of the others do. Though they take the famous scale in the Nunc dimittis, descending to a profound B flat, in their stride, they are not as sonorous as some others, and their particular contribution is to sing the music lightly and flexibly, with a lively response to the words. They have excellent sopranos, safe in intonation when attacking the exposed high entries in thirds which are a feature of the music, and a good tenor for the three numbers that involve him as a soloist. The Magnificat, with all its tempo changes and shifts of register, is expressively done, as are the light rhythms of ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord’.
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.
The artistic concept behind this disc gives us a somewhat unusual compilation, featuring 9 excerpts from an "early Russian" All-Night Vigil–unison chants transcribed from 16th- & 17th-century manuscripts, recorded in 1988 by the Youth & Students Choir of the Moscow Musical Society (Boris Tevlin, cond.) These are followed by the first six movements from Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil," op.37, from the classic (& currently unavailable) 1965 recording by the USSR State Chorus under Alexander Sveshnikov.
Rachmaninov's opus 1, his first piano concerto, deserves to be heard more often. The opening bars have that heroic sound that raises the hair on the back of the neck. Indeed those first moments rank alongside those of the Grieg and Tchaikovsky piano concertos for their ability to thrill. Ashkenazy's breathtaking playing on a superb piano is matched by that of the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Haitink's direction.
The outstanding young German pianist Joseph Moog makes his debut on ONYX with a superb disc of two great Russian piano concertos that have had very different fates. Anton Rubinstein s 4th was once one of the most famous and popular concertos in the repertoire, and many of the major virtuosos performed this work into the early years of the 20th century when the composer s other works vanished from the concert hall.
There's no question about pianist Kateryna Titova's technique in her debut recital, and a good thing, too, since the program consists entirely of works by Rachmaninov, the composer of some of the most transcendentally difficult piano music of the fin de siècle. But no matter what the Russian composer asks for – be it the tumults of notes that open the Allegro agitato of his Second Piano Sonata, the ethereal ostinatos that start the Prélude in G minor, the monumental sonorities that fill the Prélude in C sharp minor, or the feathery arabesques that saturate the composer's transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee – the young Ukrainian-born, German-based pianist nails them all.
Since pianist Yuja Wang and conductor Gustavo Dudamel count among Deutsche Grammophon’s young superstars, it was inevitable that they collaborate on disc. In the Rachmaninov Third Concerto Wang’s tendency to reverse accents and make sudden pianissimo plunges at certain climactic moments borders on mannerism (what’s with that momentum-breaking comma right before the first-movement development section Allegro?), but the piano part’s swirling textures benefit from Wang’s fanciful voicings, imaginative rubatos, and frisky, dead-on accurate fingerwork.