on 4 July 2011
Amazing how a 40+ year old recording can sound so good. This is a great pair of CDs and will sit well in anybody's collection. Ashkenazy's performances are always second to none and with these Rachmaninoff pieces he does not disappoint, simply stunning material which I have listened to again and again and again without ever becoming bored, there are so many wonderful themes woven through each concerto and they are not spoiled by remastering or digital noise, this is a really sharp and crisp recording which sounds fantastic at high volumes through a decent set of speakers.
on 30 July 2012
There are numerous recordings by the World's greatest painists of Concertos 2 and 3, but none that I have heard quite come up to the quality of Ashkenazy and Previn: I couple them together, since all these concertos require a solid and unselfish partnership. To be sure, there are moments when the spotlight is on both soloist and then orchestra, but we must never lose sight of the fact that the balance is absolutely vital in any successful performance, and without it, the music cannot flow: here the balance is perfect, and the details clear - you will return to the works again and again, and hear things that perhaps you may previously have missed, or want to hear anew.
You may not know Concertos 1 and 4, so this is your opportunity to examine them. No. 1 was revised extensively by him in 1917(this is the revision), and it contains some haunting melodies, one right at the outset after the opening flourish, (itself reminiscent of the Schumann and Grieg Concertos). There is another haunting melody in the finale, and the piano writing is extremely colourful - this is in no way an "apprentice work" despite it being the Composer's Op. 1. It is shorter than its two successors, and lighter in content, but in no way inferior in melodic content and brilliance. Rachmaninov was pleased with his First Concerto (although somewhat peeved when audiences just wanted the Second!), and so will you be.
The Fourth is more difficult; it originally dated from 1926, but Rachmaninov constantly revised it and it only reached its present form in 1941. It is even shorter than No. 1, but taut and concise: you will not find soaring tunes, but it is strangely compelling. The opening melody is lengthy and given out in full-handed chords by the piano with a rich orchestral accompaniment; we are thus immediately plunged into the work. The slow movement is not the usual sensuous lyricism, but more reserved with a melody which has been unkindly likened to "Three Blind Mice". However, ignore this: the movement stands on its own, and foes not need this type of comparison! It is linked to the finale which is a glittering display by both soloist and orchestra with some sardonic touches, but although there is no "big" tune as such, there is a poetic and lyrical central section which I think you will find quite haunting. Ashkenazy and Previn give us a moving account of it, which, the more I hear, the more I like.
These recordings are - incredibly - 40 years old, but like a good wine, they are appreciated much more with age.
on 10 December 2003
I find that these recordings are very deeply felt by both the soloist and conductor.
I always like the way Vladimir Ashkenazy interprets these concertos. It is all the more enjoyable that he plays in such an unselfish manner and allows the music to properly flow. There is a tune near the beginning of the third concerto which I can show as an example. There are plenty of brilliant pianists, but so many of them overcook the romanticism and show off too much. It takes a musical giant like Ashkenazy to be able to hold himself back for the sake of the music. Being a professional orchestra player, I have played with quantities of great pianists. When I heard Ashkenazy he was incredibly brilliant and had wonderful musical flair.
These recordings made in 1970-71, have been basic staple recommendations in the catalogues since they were made. Since then they have reappeared in various forms but this latest remastered and budget priced version must now be the best version of these recordings yet.
Ashkenazy and Previn clearly developed a mutually satisfying musical empathy in the 70's and this was particularly apparent in these concerto recordings and also the two-piano works such as the suites and Symphonic Dances.
Both have also made notable recordings of the symphonies with the set by Ashkenazy being the more consistent and 'Russian' of the two. Ashkenazy first made his name as a Rachmaninov pianist with his recording of the third concerto with Fistoulari. That remains a very special disc. The later set with Haitink did not have the sparkle of the earlier recordings, reliable though it was.
Since those days there have been many more fine complete sets of these concertos. Those by Lugansky and Andsnes stand out among the recent entries. I personally find them far more satisfying than the set by Hough, digitally spectacular as finger-work though those may be. I eventually passed them on to a friend of mine and have not regretted that.
I would suggest that the set discussed here by Ashkenazy and Previn is a very hard act to match let alone beat and, as such, it certainly deserves to continue being listed as a main consideration for purchase. No one recording of such core repertoire can ever claim to be the 'best' or 'definitive' of course, but Ashkenazy's set with Previn can certainly claim to be one of the best to which I would add Lugansky and Andsnes plus several single concertos by other pianists who have had particular individual successes. The joys of collecting .....!
on 26 July 2013
I have had this set on my shelves for a long time -- long before Amazon was even a twinkle in Jeff Bezos's eye -- and thought highly of it, but when I started reviewing I started listening to other recordings: Thibaudet, Graffman, Hough, Argerich, Ashkenazy's earlier recordings. Many of these are fine -- and I look forward to hearing Andsnes -- but I went back to this one to see how it held up. Well, it held up pretty darn well. Although the piano is slightly forward in the aural picture, the orchestra is given plenty of presence, and Previn (a very fine conductor of big romantic pieces) is simply superb in assuring the tonal and rhythmic adjustments needed if these concertos are going to breathe as they should. One example: the intensification of expression following the little cadenza-like moment as the second movement of the Second concerto drives to its climax -- it just doesn't get any better. Comparing these performances (from around 1970) with Ashkenazy's fine recordings of the Second and Third from the early 1960's, it strikes me that the balance is better here and Previn's conducting at least as cohesive (though I love that Second with Kondrashin!). And further listening has heightened my appreciation of the music -- the variety and delicacy of these pieces can be overlooked when the big tunes start swinging out. Ashkenazy, one of the great pianists of the last sixty years, is fully in command, and the Decca engineers do justice to the power and the sweetness of his tone. All in all, a marvelous bargain.
on 21 February 2006
Although it is possible that some prefer the playing of Michelangi for these recordings, i believe they are being short-sighted. On this record Ashkenazy demonstrates his Russian training and interpretation, thus getting much closer to the style that befits Rachmaninov! I recommend this album strongly if you strive to hear these well known concertos in the Russian style they were composed! But if you strive for a western style of interpretation then don't buy this! Ashkenazy performs all of the four concertos with his typicall musicalaty that never fails to provoke thought, but his performane of the 2nd deserves special mention! And not forgetting the fine LSO playing throughout, admirally conducted By Andre Previn!
on 10 May 2009
The first sentence of The Gramophone Classical Music Guide 2008 review of this set states "Despite the recording dates, the sound and balance are superb, and there's nothing to cloud your sense of Ashkenazy's greatness in all these works." Little more need be said about this highly recommended pair of CDs.
Now almost forty years old the performances and recordings are vivid and detailed. The first concerto (Rachmaninov's opus 1) deserves to be heard more often. From the strikingly martial opening to the delicacy of the triangle's playing in the final movement this is a stunning work. The romantic second and third concertos are equally impressive and Ashkenazy's rendering of the grander of Rachmaninov's cadenzas in the first movement of the third concerto is breathtaking.
This is fine Russian music played by the finest pianist of his generation.
on 14 April 2007
No question that Ashkenazy, Argerich, & Michelangeli are geat pianists and that their Rach recordings are among the best. But two other interpreters are so outstanding that their recordings are...what can one say...transcendent ?
The recordings by Rachmaninov himself are benchmarks and beyond reproach. Unfortunately he lived at a time when recording technology was primitive, although modern restoration specialists have made a wonderful job of bringing his recordings to life on the Naxos Historical label. I recommend these to any music lover who can accept the limitations of less-than-perfect recording for the sake of hearing exactly what this extraordinary composer intended. If one cannot put up with the shortcomings of restored mechanical/electric recording technology, then the next best option is Horowitz, on whom Rachmaninov himself had conferred his blessing. But, beautiful as they are, the sound quality of the Horowitz recordings falls short of what we expect today. What to do?
There is one great modern pianist who plays the Rachmaninov concertos and the Paganini Variations with all the technical brilliance and interpretive skill of the composer himself. To my mind his interpretations are superior to all the well-known pianists named so far. He forswears flashy displays of technique to revert strictly to Rachmaninov's original scores, especially with respect to tempi. He is well served with a first-rate modern recording. I refer you to Stephen Hough's recording of the four Rachmaninov concertos and the Paganini Variations, with the Dallas Symphony under Andrew Litton. You will not be disappointed.
on 5 October 2013
This set still remains arguably the best set of Rachmaninov Concertos ever recorded. The chemistry between Ashkenazy and Previn is electrifying, and the orchestral playing by the LSO, at the peak of their powers, completes the package. The Kingsway Hall recording has a tendency to slight over brightness at times, but this doesn't spoil the enjoyment from start to finish. Strangely enough, the vinyl edition of these recordings had a tendency towards dullness, so the present incarnation is welcome. When these performances were first issued, HiFi news gave the set an 'A*:1*' rating, which would still stand today.
on 18 June 2016
As the Romans already knew, there is no arguing about taste. Still I hesitate to give my opinion since it so radically differs from all the others. Frankly, I find these performances insufferable. It is the tempi. Ashkenazy and Previn take them exceptionally slow. So slow, in fact, that to me the cohesion of the melodies and the very essence of the music completely evaporate. Even the third movement of Rachaninov 3, which ought to sound like dynamite, gets transformed into a soothing lullaby. This is Rachmaninov in slow motion and it is like lightning in slow motion, the whole point of the thing gets lost. (Something similar happens, by the way, when Ashkenazy plays the Brahms concertos.) Again, there is no arguing about taste. I absolutely love Rachaninov 3 by Martha Argerich and Ricardo Chailly and that rendering may be far too fast to the liking of some others. Anyway, I thought the fact that not just everybody loves these performances might be of interest to potential buyers.