SERGEI RACHMANINOFF - AMPICO PIANO ROLL RECORDINGS
VOLUME II: HENSELT: Were I a Bird, Op. 2 No. 6. RUBINSTEIN: Barcarolle,
Op. 5 No. 93. GLUCK-SGAMBATI: Melodie from Orfeo ed Euridice.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Troika from The Seasons. Waltz, Op 40 No. 9. MENDELSSOHN:
Spinning Song, Op. 67 No. 34. CHOPIN: Waltz in E Flat, Op. 18. The
Maiden's Wish. Waltz,
Op. 34 No. 3. Nocturne, Op. 15 No. 1. Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31.
SCHUBERT-LISZT: Das Wandern. BACH: Sarabande from Partita No. 4. PADEREWSKI:
Minuet, Op. 14 No. 1. BEETHOVEN-RUBINSTEIN: Turkish March from Ruins
of Athens. SCHUBERT: Impromptu, Op. 90 No. 4.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58. SAINT-SAËNS: Piano
Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22
WILLIAM KAPELL IN RECITAL
The two Telarc releases are not new; they were issued in 1998 and 1999 but have never before been mentioned on this site. These are major issues offering performances recorded by Sergei Rachmaninoff from 1919 to 1929 utilizing Ampico music roll technology, one devoted to his performances of his own music, the second to music of other composers, sometimes in Rachmaninoff's transcriptions. The Russian pianist's first Edison recording was made about a month after the first batch of piano roll recordings and in 1920 Rachmaninoff began his long association with Victor, which would continue for more than two decades. Victor's recordings were adequate but not outstanding from a sound standpoint. All of these have been issued on CD in transfers that did justice to the original 78s. There also have been issued of some of the Ampico piano rolls but these have been unsatisfactory. Now some of these piano roll recordings are heard in stunning new transfers, thanks to the efforts of Wayne Stahnke who devised a computer-based system to electronically recreate information from the original piano rolls and reproduce it on a magnificent Bösendorfer 290SE concert grand, digitally recording the result. It can be said that previous transfers of these recordings are decidedly inferior to what is heard on these remarkable CDs. Stahnke's process gives us a wider tonal palette more subtelties, nuance and beautiful tone that seems to do justice to the remarkable artistry of Rachmaninoff. In notes accompanying each CD Stahnke explains in detail the process used for these transfers. There are hundreds of other Ampico piano roll recordings by Rachmaninoff and other artists; let us hope Stahnke and Telarc will continue this series. For more information on piano roll recordings and to get an idea of the wealth of performances available on piano rolls, visit the Reproducing Piano Roll Foundation Site: http://www.rprf.org/PDF/.
Archipel's mid-priced CD offers two CBS New York Philharmonic performances with Artur Rubinstein as soloist, Dimitri Mitropoulos on the podium. Beethoven's Concerto No. 4, from a 1951 broadcast, is quite remarkable in its vigor and offers the pianist, 64 at the time, in top form. His fingers betray him a bit, but the lustrous playing compensates for that—and he dazzles with Saint-Saëns' showy first-movement cadenza. The latter's Concerto No. 2 always was a favorite of Rubinstein who recorded it three times commercially, the first time in 1939 with Gaubert in Paris released for the first time on a now-deleted Testament CD (see REVIEW), later with Wallenstein and Ormandy for RCA. The pianist didn't want the his first recording to be issued saying he had problems with the orchestra when actually the reason for rejection was Rubinstein's rather haphazard playing. This 1952 broadcast is a scintillating performance full of bravura (along with a few missed notes), and the audience's delight is shown by their applause after each movement. Sound on this mid-priced Archipel CD is very good, typical of a fine AM broadcast of the time.
Arbiter's CD is misnamed. "Kapell in Recital" is hardly appropriate for a CD that contains two concerted works. It would be interesting to know more of the circumstances involving the Beethoven Concerto No. 3. The first movement wasn't performed. This is Kapell's earliest surviving recording made in 1937 when he was fourteen, a rather brisk look at the Largo second movement, an expectedly vital Rondo finale. The Shostakovich concerto, recorded in 1945 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, is given a stunning performance. Pictures is from a 1951 concert at Connecticut College, recorded in quite poor sound resurrected partially by Seth Winner's expertise; the Bach/Busoni chorale prelude is from the same concert. CD notes include many comments by the pianist's widow, Dr. Anna Lou Dehaven, and excerpts from some of Kapell's letters to friends expressing his anxiety about giving concerts. I remember seeing him many years ago (!) backstage at Orchestra Hall in Chicago when he was about to play the Rachmaninoff Third with Eugene Ormandy and the Chicago Symphony. It seemed that in ten minutes he had smoked an entire pack of cigarettes—but, in spite of his nervousness when he got on stage he gave a dynamite performance. How unfortunate that doesn't exist but it was not broadcast. Kapell admirers surely will wish to investigate this intriguing CD.
R.E.B. (October 2003)