Although Sergei Rachmaninov considered himself first and foremost a composer, the last two decades of his life found him knee-deep in his “second career” as a touring concert pianist and recording artist. In 1992, RCA Gold Seal brought out all of Rachmaninov’s recorded performances in a 10-disc set, now reprinted as a space-saving budget box.
Ever since Beethoven wrote his last piano sonata and called it "Opus 111", the number 111 has enjoyed certain kudos in musical circles, and 2009 marks the 111th anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon.
Over 11 decades, the label's philosophy has always been “the greatest recordings by the greatest artists in the world” and now they showcase this with this incredible 55 CD box set.
This magnificent collection spans almost half a century, from three of Rachmaninov's Op 39 Etudes-Tableaux that Vladimir Ashkenazy recorded in 1963, to his version of the First Sonata, which was released two years ago. It's wonderfully comprehensive, including the four piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody, the works for two pianos (the Suites and the Symphonic Dances with André Previn, some smaller-scale pieces with Ashkenazy's son Vovka), and all manner of occasional pieces and transcriptions as well as the major solo piano works.
The Prague Philharmonic choir join over a dozen others who have recorded Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, a work once thought the special property of the Russian choirs who are, of course, prominent in the lists. The Czechs sing it without a cantor, and more as a concert work than some of the others do. Though they take the famous scale in the Nunc dimittis, descending to a profound B flat, in their stride, they are not as sonorous as some others, and their particular contribution is to sing the music lightly and flexibly, with a lively response to the words. They have excellent sopranos, safe in intonation when attacking the exposed high entries in thirds which are a feature of the music, and a good tenor for the three numbers that involve him as a soloist. The Magnificat, with all its tempo changes and shifts of register, is expressively done, as are the light rhythms of ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord’.
This is a wondrous disc. Yevgeny Sudbin has not been alone in championing the piano music of Nikolay Medtner: in recent times Marc-André Hamelin, Steven Osborne and Hamish Milne have all brought their special insights into a composer who can perhaps on occasion seem problematic and somehow remote. Sudbin, however, seems to have an exceptional affinity with Medtner’s language. He brings both his heart and his head into play when performing these pieces. His head tackles and illuminates textures and harmonies that might seem opaque and knotty on a first study of the scores; his heart is then harnessed to convey the extraordinary sensibility, passion and thoroughly individual cast of melody that courses through the music. As usual with Sudbin’s series of BIS discs, he also writes his own booklet-notes in a lucid way that testifies both to his enthusiasm and to his understanding.
While Sergey Rachmaninov is justly celebrated for his piano concertos and symphonies, his sets of variations shouldn't be overlooked, for they are among his most inventive and satisfying works. Russian pianist Danil Trifonov plays the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Variations on a Theme of Chopin, and the Variations on a Theme of Corelli on this 2015 Deutsche Grammophon release, and he offers his own special tribute to the composer in his solo piano suite, Rachmaniana. For the Rhapsody, Trifonov is joined by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, an ensemble that counts historic performances with Rachmaninov as part of its heritage, and plays with its characteristic lush sound and passionate expression…