RACHMANINOFF:  Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14.  Anna Moffo, sop/American Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski. Morton Gould and His Orchestra.  Vladimir Spivakov, violinist/Sergei Bezrodny, pianist.  Philadelphia Orch/Sergei Rachmaninoff, cond. Brian Asawa, countertenor/Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner, cond. Evgeny Kissin, pianist.  James Galway, flute/National Symphony Orch/Charles Gerhardt, cond. Norman Luboff Choir/New Symphony Orchestra of London/Leopold Stokowski, cond. Isao Tomita & "The Plasma Symphony Orch."  Wolfram Huschke, cellist/Dieter Huschke, pianist.  Vitya Vronsky & Victor Babin, duo-pianists. St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch/Yuri Temirkanov, cond.  Ruth Ann Swenson, sop/Warren Jones, pianist.
RCA BMG 63669  (M) (ADD/DDD) TT:  76:12 

A fascinating concept —thirteen different performances/arrangements of Rachmaninoff's lovely Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14, which started life as a song without text.  The voice sings a vowel sound "ah" or "ooh" and is treated as an instrument. Rachmaninoff made the first non-vocal "arrangement" for orchestra and it is appropriately included in this compilation. It is a classic performance of a truncated version necessitated by limited playing time of a 78 rpm disc when the recording was made with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929. Other orchestral versions included are Morton Gould's own transcription recorded in 1960 with  his studio orchestra, and Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic playing Kurt Sanderling's arrangement, recorded in 1991.  Both are richly voluptuous, Temirkanov the more leisurely by a small margin..

The CD begins with soprano Anna Moffo's fine performance recorded in 1964 with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski in which the distinguished conductor provided a lush background for Moffo's langorous singing. Moffo sings an arrangement by Arcady Dubensky; Ruth Ann Swenson sings the original version with a fearless approach to the high tessitura, recorded in 1994. Countertenor Brian Asawa's sound is pure but unusual,  sounding out-of-place in this rich music. On this CD Stokowski has a second go at Vocalise  recorded in London with the Norman Luboff Choir in an arrangement by Luboff and Walter Stoff. It is predictably full-blown and sensuous. The Maestro also made a monophonic recording for RCA in 1953 and two other recordings for other labels all of the original orchestral version.  Also recorded in London  is James Galway's performance of Charles Gerhardt's arrangement, recorded in 1976, in which the flutist's wondrous tone is ever apparent. In this company Vladimir Spivakov's solo performance of Jascha Heifetz's arrangement sounds quite thin although it is immaculately played. Evgeny Kissin's playing of Alan Richardson's transcription is a study in the art of beautiful piano performance. The two-piano recording by Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin of Vronsky's arrangement recorded in 1940 seems straight-laced by comparison. A live performance dating from 1995 by cellist Wolfram Huschke playing his own transcription accompanied by Dieter Husche is the low point of this CD. The performance is of no distinction and the audience is incredibly noisy. Program your CD player  to skip Track 10. Another view of Vocalise is the electronic one of Isao Tomita, producing weird, ethereal sounds that some might find of interest—I do not. It is unfortunate that Clara Rockmore's haunting performance on the theramin  (with pianist Nadia Reisenberg) couldn't have been included; you can find that on Delos (CD 1014).  This is a compilation that has far more winners than losers, at a relatively low price.

R.E.B. (April 2000)