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’.
This magnificent collection spans almost half a century, from three of Rachmaninov's Op 39 Etudes-Tableaux that Vladimir Ashkenazy recorded in 1963, to his version of the First Sonata, which was released two years ago. It's wonderfully comprehensive, including the four piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody, the works for two pianos (the Suites and the Symphonic Dances with André Previn, some smaller-scale pieces with Ashkenazy's son Vovka), and all manner of occasional pieces and transcriptions as well as the major solo piano works.
This release - set for March 2017 - is a piece of history: it is a combination of unreleased and historic audio and visuals. It allows a unique view of the enigmatic maestro Grigory Sokolov’s life because it offers an opportunity to hear authentic performances from over ten and even twenty years ago accompanied by a brand-new film by Nadia Zhdanova.
This is a wondrous disc. Yevgeny Sudbin has not been alone in championing the piano music of Nikolay Medtner: in recent times Marc-André Hamelin, Steven Osborne and Hamish Milne have all brought their special insights into a composer who can perhaps on occasion seem problematic and somehow remote. Sudbin, however, seems to have an exceptional affinity with Medtner’s language. He brings both his heart and his head into play when performing these pieces. His head tackles and illuminates textures and harmonies that might seem opaque and knotty on a first study of the scores; his heart is then harnessed to convey the extraordinary sensibility, passion and thoroughly individual cast of melody that courses through the music. As usual with Sudbin’s series of BIS discs, he also writes his own booklet-notes in a lucid way that testifies both to his enthusiasm and to his understanding.
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.