A master in Rachmaninoff (as I suppose I must call Rachmaninov, according to this recording), Vladimir Feltsman here gives us a very balanced and agreeable programme comprising of a live performance in Moscow and a recent studio recording session for Nimbus, separated by eighteen years. There is no musical reason why two such disparate sources should not be linked on one disc and Feltsman must have consented to the photo montage on the cover which depicts him both as he is now - in black and white as a venerable gentleman at the end of his sixth decade and as he was in colour when he recorded the concerto with a great deal more hair - but it is a sobering reminder of the effects of time. However, time has by no means dimmed his artistry and both performances are testament to his reputation as a superlative interpreter of Rachmaninoff.
The main drawback to this disc lies in the juxtaposition of the warm, detailed studio ambience with the distant, papery acoustic of the live recorded sound from 1992, complete with percussive sneezes and coughs. This is a pity, as artistically, I think Feltsman and Pletnev can stand comparison with any competitive recording. Having said that, many of those front-runners, such as Horowitz with Reiner and Byron Janis on Mercury, are also either disadvantaged by tape hiss or, as with Van Cliburn for RCA/Sony, in rather dull analogue sound. For some, the only interpretative equals in better sound than Feltsman might be Volodos or Kissin but I certainly still value the passion and sweep of the partnership of Feltsman and Pletnev here above virtually any other version.
Feltsman's virtuosity and complete immersion in the idiom are things of wonder; it must have helped that he had an equally passionate and virtuosic pianist in Pletnev as his conductor. This is a grand, storming performance in which technical difficulties are not even a consideration for the soloist. The electricity of the live occasion excuses the audience noise and some congestion at peak volume. The Finale builds and builds to a truly thrilling climax and the audience response is ecstatic.
In addition, the dreamy beauty of Feltsman's playing of the Elegy and the six Preludes in themselves constitute some of the most gloriously sentimental and impassioned pianism I have heard for a good while. The Elegy is a stirring outpouring by a composer not yet twenty, infusing the melancholy delicacy of Chopin with the tragic grandeur of the Russian soul. The Preludes are equally remarkable for their variety and for the sensitivity and technical bravura of Feltsman's treatment of them.
In short, a collector's disc for whose sonic deficiencies in the concerto it is very easy to make allowances.