I have many recordings of the Rachmaninoff Concerto's and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini each with different artists on single CD's in order to avoid what happens here: where the conductor and sometimes even the pianist are not always up to the task of playing what is written.Soundwise all I have is a $90.00 Sony MHC-EC55 Mini Hi Fi Component System, yet both piano and orchestra sound like they are right in my living room. Performancewise, Lugansky is one of the very few pianists whos hands are big enough to play the opening chords of the Second Concerto, simultaneously the way they are written, without having to break the chords apart.(Krystian Zimerman's opening is the most awesome I have ever heard)Lugansky's expression is always in complete identification with the composers meticulous editing,packed with feeling but never becoming sentimental, and his technique impeccable.
I have never heard the beautiful 2nd Concerto played better than this.I also like his 3rd Concerto very much, but at the final close of the last movement when the big tune comes in, he, along with most everyone else, treats it like the soundtrack of a syrupy Hollywood movie.(It seems as though only Stephan Hough, Byron Janis and most recently Valentina Lisitsa are among the few that have read the letters Rachmaninoff sent to musicologist Josef Yasser explaining how his Concerto's should be played.)
In the 1st Concerto, the first and especially last movements are excellent, being comparablle to Pletnev and Janis who own this piece, but at the beginning of the slow 2nd movement, Lugansky surprisingly misses a very important note in the melodic line: 8 bars after the piano makes its solo entrance the melodic line continues with the notes D, F# and E# yet for some reason Lugansky misses the F# which is incredible since this is the least demanding technically. In the last movement conductor Sakari Oramo leaves out the triangle from pages 125 through 144 (Boosey & Hawkes original orchestral score), which misses the magic effect that can be heard in the composers recording with Ormandy, Moiseiwitsch with Sir Malcolm Sargent who went so far as to place the triangle close to the microphone during their 1948 recording session, and Thibaudet/Ashkenazy. The triangle keeps the beat while the piano plays: "Allegro ma non troppo staccatissimo" and is quite breathtaking. Lugansky's playing in the last movement is filled with fresh new insights and frequently gives one the feeling that they are hearing the music for the first time, but he needs to record this Concerto in collaberation with someone like Ashkenazy conducting, who's vast experience is desparately needed in both the 2nd and 3rd movements.
The 4th Concerto sounds just as good as Michelangeli performancewise, but my personal favorite is Ashkenazy/Previn since those two have a chemistry that transcends criticism.The Rhapsody is excellent, and the Corelli and Chopin variations are given true virtuoso performances, comparable to Howard Shelleys stunning account, but better recorded.For the most part this complete set is a good buy,and I give 5 stars to the 2nd Concerto, Corelli & Chopin variations, 4 stars to Concerto's 3, 4 and the Rhapsody and 3 stars to the 1st Concerto.