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The Russian Piano Tradition - Richter, Zak, Oborin

Release Date: 06/12/2007 
Label:  Apr (Appian) Catalog #: 6005   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Sviatoslav RichterLev OborinYakov Zak
Conductor:  Kurt SanderlingAlexander GaukKonstantin IvanovKiril Kondrashin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  USSR Radio/TV Large Symphony OrchestraUSSR State Symphony OrchestraMoscow Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RACHMANINOFF Piano Concertos: No. 1 in f?; 1 No. 2 in c; 2 No. 3 in d; 3 No. 4 in g. 4 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 5 Sviatoslav Richter (pn); 1 Lev Oborin (pn); 2,3 Yakov Zak (pn); Read more class="SUPER12">4,5 Kurt Sanderling, cond; 1 USSR RTV Large SO; 1 Alexander Gauk, cond; 2 Radio O; 2 Konstantin Ivanov, cond; 3 USSR St SO; 3 Kiril Kondrashin, cond; 4,5 Moscow SO; 4 USSR St SO 5 APR 6005 (2 CDs: 146:31)

This economically priced set, part of APR’s new series devoted to “The Russian Piano Tradition,” offers the first Soviet recordings of each of Rachmaninoff’s works for piano and orchestra. Except for Richter’s nearly ubiquitous version of the First, they’re all rare, at least in the West—and while neither Oborin (best known for his accompaniments for David Oistrakh and his participation in a trio with Oistrakh and Knushevitzky) nor Zak (best known for his duo-piano work with Gilels) quite matches Richter’s fabled conviction, their Rachmaninoff performances are nonetheless definitely worth owning.

Most notable, I think, is Oborin’s 1947 Second. Given clichés about high Soviet style, we might have expected heart-on-the-sleeve emotionality. Instead, however, we get a bold, brightly lit, and tightly argued reading that sternly avoids any hint of sentimentality, even in the second movement, where Oborin’s relatively low-legato playing (no Rubinsteinian plush here!) keeps the temperatures on the cool side. His Third, recorded two years later, is not quite so impressive. The overall tough-mindedness is similarly refreshing—but the Third is a more bravura work than its predecessor, and Oborin, hardly the most self-aggrandizing of pianists, never quite provides the necessary virtuoso thrill. There’s much to admire here even so, especially in Oborin’s exceptional voicing, his ability to keep the melody clear without diminishing the intricacy of the accompaniments (try, as but one example, his entry in the second movement). Still, the Third really asks for more spectacle. Thus, the fury after rehearsal 14 in the first movement seems slightly tame; the poco più mosso passage in the second movement stalls badly; and the last movement presents more than a few moments of strain. Add to this the occasional slips in ensemble and the generally blowzy orchestral work, and the performance is no match, say, for the Gilels/Kondrashin reading made at nearly the same time.

As for Zak: even today, the Fourth is fairly arcane territory that can stymie pianists entirely at home with Rachmaninoff’s earlier idiom—one can only imagine how alien it must have been in the Soviet Union in 1954. Unfazed by the stylistic lurches, however, Zak offers a supremely confident reading. On the whole, he takes an assertive approach, ignoring both the music’s invitations to indulge in romantic nostalgia and its countervailing invitations to focus on the quirks in its details, playing the work instead with an unerring sense of momentum and (especially in the finale) a hard-edged neo-Classical crunch. In the process, he sacrifices some of the Fourth’s distinctive character; but in compensation, he manages to give it an unaccustomed sense of coherence. His light-fingered, mercurial reading of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is similarly keen (listen, as but one example, to his scamper through the 15th Variation)—and in both works, Kondrashin proves an able partner.

The sound varies from work to work and even from side to side of the original recordings—but the reprocessing is up to APR’s usual high standards. If you’re new to this music and you’re seeking all of these works in a single set, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first choice: you’d be better served by Stephen Hough’s recent benchmark or by one of the classic completes: Vladimir Ashkenazy’s (his first, with Previn), Earl Wild’s, or ( hors concours ) Rachmaninoff’s own. But if you’re a piano aficionado interested in either the history of Russian pianism or the history of Rachmaninoff performance practice, this new set belongs on your shelves.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Sviatoslav Richter (Piano)
Conductor:  Kurt Sanderling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  USSR Radio/TV Large Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891/1917; Russia 
Concerto for Piano no 2 in C minor, Op. 18 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Lev Oborin (Piano)
Conductor:  Alexander Gauk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  USSR Radio/TV Large Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Russia 
Date of Recording: 1947 
Concerto for Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 30 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Lev Oborin (Piano)
Conductor:  Konstantin Ivanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909; Russia 
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G minor, Op. 40 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Yakov Zak (Piano)
Conductor:  Kiril Kondrashin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926/1941; USA 
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op. 43 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Yakov Zak (Piano)
Conductor:  Kiril Kondrashin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1934; USA 

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