Notes and Editorial Reviews
Vladimir Ashkenazy (pn)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3606 (59:58)
Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a Decca artist since 1963, and over the course of that enduring relationship has built a large and comprehensive discography encompassing virtually the whole of the mainstream piano repertoire. His Rachmaninoff has long been part of that legacy.
Included on this Eloquence reissue is the pianist’s
, op. 33, originally recorded in two sessions, Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 6 at All Saints Church, Petersham, London, in September 1977, and Nos. 1, 4, 7, and 8 at the Church of St. George the Martyr, Holborn, in April 1981. Those recordings are still available on the parent Decca label, but have been combined into two- and six-disc collections of Ashkenazy’s Rachmaninoff.
The op. 39
on this Eloquence release, however, is here seeing its first international release on CD. Recorded in February 1973, it has heretofore been available, as far as I know, only on vinyl. Ashkenazy recorded a later version in 1986, and that’s the one included in the aforementioned six-CD set, but not the two-disc set.
If you’re familiar with Ashkenazy, you’ll know what to expect. For my taste, he’s a pianist who, like Daniel Barenboim, I tend to prefer on the podium rather than at the keyboard. Ashkenazy is always in technical command of the music, but with such a wide-ranging repertoire his playing can take on a generalized or generic feeling. His Rachmaninoff études are beautifully realized with supple fingerwork, appealing tone, and ample power in the big
passages and dramatic climaxes. But listening by way of comparison to Howard Shelley’s études on Hyperion, I couldn’t help but note a fuller exploration of the
, i.e. of the picturesque or caractéristique aspects of these pieces.
In hyphenating the two words,
, Rachmaninoff intended these works to serve a dual purpose, one of presenting the player with a variety of specific technical challenges in the manner of Chopin’s Études, and the other of presenting the listener with non-specific programmatic imagery. Ashkenazy has no trouble surmounting the technical challenges, but he seems less involved than Shelley in the characterization of each étude.
Still in all, Ashkenazy was, and still is, one of the world’s leading pianists—though he has been more occupied in recent years with his conducting activities—so it’s good finally to have his op. 39
on CD. Unfortunately, if you acquire this Eloquence release and you already have Ashkenazy’s op. 33
in one or another of their previous Decca CD issues, you’ll be duplicating half the content of the present disc.
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