RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 1.  Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 28.  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.
Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianist/Philharmonia Orch; Malcolm Sargent, cond. (#1)/ Liverpool Philharmonic Orch; Walter Goehr, cond. (#2)/Basil Cameron, cond. (Rhapsody).
NAXOS 8.110676 (B) (ADD) TT:  78:12
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RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 1.  Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor, Op. 40. (Original Versions)
Alexander Ghindin, pianist/Helsinki Philharmonic Orch; Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.

ONDINE ODE 977 (F) (DDD) TT:  60:35
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Naxos continues its Moiseiwitsch series with this disk of the pianist's first recordings of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 and Paganini Rhapsody, plus his only recording of Concerto No. 1.  The latter was recorded December 23, 1948.  Informative notes by Jonathan Summers state the single session went well and all six 78 rpm sides are first takes—which is rather strange as the Russian pianist slips more than a few notes, and for some reason makes a small cut in the first-movement cadenza.  However, the sweep and understanding of the Rachmaninoff idiom are always apparent and it's easy to understand why the composer felt Moiseiwitsch was an ideal interpreter of his music—but I'm surprised there weren't a few retakes. Concerto No. 2 was recorded November 24, 1937 with another session a month later to redo side one. One would never suspect from the recorded performance that the sessions were somewhat chaotic; the fugato in the last movement was done six times before soloist and orchestra were coordinated. For whatever reason, Moiseiwitsch briefly embellishes the solo part in the final moments of the first movement's coda. His Paganini Rhapsody, recorded December 5, 1938, is among the finest ever made although some may prefer his 1955 stereo recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Hugo Rignold. Ward Marston's transfers are superb and we have a total of 32 tracks, 26 of which are for the Rhapsody. Another bargain from Naxos!

Ondine's CD presents Rachmaninoff's first and last concertos, each identified as "original versions" stating the Concerto No. 4 here receives its world premiere recording, which is not exactly true—in 1991 Chandos issued a CD featuring William Black with the Iceland Symphony conducted by Igor Buketoff coupled with the composer's early one-act opera Monna Vanna (8987). I've been informed by a representative of the Rachmaninoff Society that the Chandos recording is the first of the second version of Concerto No. 4, and the new Ondine actually is the first of the first version. Concerto No.1, which began life as a piano concerto in C minor, was completed in 1891. The first movement was played at the Moscow Conservatory May 17, 1892 with the composer as soloist with the "final" revised version presented in New York in 1919. As originally composed, the concerto is highly episodic and needed tightening up. It seems Rachmaninoff, to some extent, modeled his concerto after Grieg; there's almost an exact steal from the A minor concerto at 3:55 into the first movement; strong influences of Chopin also are evident. Without a score it's difficult to be specific but it does seem there are some minor differences between the new Ondine and the extant "original" version of Concerto No. 1 with Karina Wisniewska as a spectacular soloist (see REVIEW).

Concerto No. 4 had been in Rachmaninoff's thoughts for several years before he wrote it out. In 1926 he told his friend Nicolas Medtner that the concerto is far too long..."it will have to be performed like the Ring on several nights in succession."  The premiere March 18, 1927 in Philadelphia with Stokowski conducting was coolly received.  Rachmaninoff made some revisions and Concerto No. 4 was published—only to have the composer make even more cuts in 1941, producing the version performed ever since. I find the original version fascinating, although somewhat rambling, particularly for its use of Dies Irae.

Young Russian pianist Alexander Ghindin (b. 1977) has won many major prizes in the pianistic world including second prize in the International Queen Elizabeth Competition.  He presents an admirable case for the scores presented here—although I find Wisniewska's performance of Concerto No. 1 more dynamic.  Ondine's sound is up to their usual high standard.  Lovers of Rachmaninoff surely will wish to investigate the composer's initia—and secondary—thoughts on these concertos.

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)