RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# Minor, Op. 1.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30.  Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor, Op. 40.  Rhapsody on a Theme of  Paganini, Op. 43.
Earl Wild, pianist/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein, cond.
CHANDOS ENCHANT 7114 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD)  TT:  67:46 & 65:45
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Giving nod to Sergei Rachmaninoff's  recordings of his own works for piano and orchestra, this is the finest complete modern recording of the integral group.  These are analog recordings made  in Kingsway Hall, London in May 1965,  produced by the late Charles Gerhardt and engineered by the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson.  Gerhardt once said to me that for a piano concerto recording he liked to hear "the sound of flesh on the keys" and one surely does here, although the solo piano never sounds overly close. Horenstein is an apt partner for this repertory, the Royal Philharmonic is in top form and the result is a spectacular success.  Originally these were recorded for the Reader's Digest and issued by them in a four-LP set that also contained Rachmaninoff's symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead which of course is not included here although if you wish to have it you could get it on Chandos coupled with the Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD 2);  Chesky and Chandos licensed these recordings from the Digest, and both have  made them available over the years at full price.  Now Chandos has reissued them at mid-price, a great bargain for anyone who doesn't have  them.

There is one caveat in this set: the performance of the Third Concerto makes the usual cuts standard for the time, the same cuts the composer made in his own recording. Wild also opts for the lighter of the two first movement cadenzas. This may not matter to many listeners; the First, Second and Fourth concertos as well as the Paganini Rhapsody are magnificent.

If you enjoy these works for piano and orchestra  you may wish to investigate Wild's other Rachmaninoff recordings.  Chesky has two CDs, one featuring the Sonata No. 2 and Preludes, Op. 23 and 32 (CD 114), the other features both the Corelli and Chopin Variations plus four of Wild's transcriptions (CD 58).  Don't overlook the Ivory Classics reissue of another fine Digest recording, the Symphonic Dances in the two-piano version,  collaborating with Christian Steiner ( 70803).  Unfortunately, it seems that the early '80s recording of 12 of Wild's song transcriptions is no longer available, but perhaps you will be able to find it (dell'Arte CDDBS 7001).

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)