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 by Paganini, Op. 43
Oleg Marshev, pianist; Aarhus Symphony Orch/James Loughran, cond.
DANACORD 582 (3 CDs) (DDD) (M) TT:  65:12 / 45:42 / 54:47

Young Russian pianist Oleg Marshev has won a number of major prizes, the first of which was the 1988 Pilar Bayona International Piano Competition in Spain. Since then he has concertized extensively and made some fine recordings for Danacord—I've only heard two CDs of concert etudes of Emil von Sauer, many receiving their disk premieres—and they are given stunning performances (REVIEW).  Marshev also has recorded all of Prokofiev's solo piano music and the five piano concertos as well as a number of "Danish Romantic Piano Concertos," with complete sets of piano/orchestra works of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich in the works. Unfortunately, this set of the Rachmaninoff concertos will not add to Marshev's reputation. Throughout his tempi are cautious, almost reticent, and there are few instances of full-blown dynamic pianism so appropriate for this music. The opening chords of Concerto No. 2 are played without imagination. Concerto No. 3 is particularly sedate, and there is no magic in the problematic Concerto No. 4, a work particularly magnificent in the hands of Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli and Earl Wild.  

Rachmaninoff's 1934 recording of his Paganini Rhapsody is 22:02; Earl Wild's phenomenal 1965 recording is probably fastest of all—20:32.  William Kapell's 1951 RCA recording is 22:08; his live performance with Rodzinski/NYP recorded in 1945, is 22:27.  Marshev's is 26:35, a number that speaks for itself.

The  Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1935, is a rather small orchestra (the booklet photo shows 63 musicians) and cannot provide orchestral sonority essential for this music—nor is their playing always clean in attack. The cover announces three CDs for the price of two—two full-priced CDs—most recordings of the four concertos and Rhapsody fit onto just two CDs, but because of slow tempi this isn't possible on these performances.

If you're looking for a complete set of Rachmaninoff's piano/orchestral works, there are many fine ones to be had, particularly the Earl Wild/Jascha Horenstein set (Chandos 7114), and the composer's own (NAXOS).

R.E.B. (September 2002)