on 8 July 2006
It's difficult to believe that only ONE review of this incredible CD has been written so far (as of July 06), so I'm doing something about it...
Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest pianists of all time. If you want to hear what it would have been like to have Sergei playing for you in your living room, get this disc. The technological genius that went into transferring the old paper rolls onto new ones and playing them back on a purpose built Bosendorfer, deserves the highest accolades in itself, but wait till you hear the results... Incredible.
on 26 February 2002
In this incredible CD, you can hear exactly how Rachmaninov played these pieces.
They were originally played on an Ampico piano, a glorified pianola, which laid down each note onto a recording medium made from paper. Every smallest detail of velocity and force was captured minutely, and thereby a permanent record was made of some of the most intense piano playing in history was made, in the years before hi-fidelity audio recordings had been developed.
In the last few years, these recordings have been analysed in the tiniest detail, and this wealth of musical history has been unearthed and transcribed into the rather more state-of-the-art technology of the CD, and without a doubt this has been a hugely successful operation.
This CD contains the complete collection of the works that Rachmaninov laid down in this manner. Most of them are his own compositions, although a fair number are his own interpretations of the works of other composers. Notable among these are Rinsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble-Bee" and a solidly performed version of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
There never was a pianist the likes of Rachmaninov, and it's doubtful that there will ever be again. It's a wonder that these performances exist - without them, this master's pianistic achievements would never have become available to us mere mortals. A must-buy for all fans of Rachmaninov.
This disc is the result of some extraordinary and dedicated work by Wayne Stahnke as an attempt to bring a faithful reproduction of Rachmaninov's playing to the modern generation, a generation that no longer has a direct memory of one of the reputedly greatest pianists of his generation. The source material was 'music rolls' which include subtleties as 'touch' as well as the notes embedded. This involved the building of specialist electronic equipment including special scanners and an electronic version of the Bosendorfer Reproducing Piano. The next stage was to scan, repair and transfer the original music roll performances to a digital format followed by a modern recording of the Reproducing Piano. The result is amazing and provides an invaluable insight into interpretations and performances given by Rachmaninov.
The playing itself proves to be fully up to expectation with superb clarity and articulation and a tremendous range of subtleties in touch. The nineteen tracks on this disc include twelve original compositions with the remaining tracks being arrangements made by Rachmaninov. There is not one piece that cannot be described as illuminating, not least the opening, and almost improvisatory, performance of the prelude in C sharp minor. This alone would be worth all the effort put into the project. It is particularly fascinating and instructive to be able hear Rachmaninov playing his own original compositions and thus giving what must be considered as definitive views on how the music was intended to be played. This is especially interesting when his own performance, as on this disc, is at variance with current performing practice such as in the prelude as mentioned above. On purely musical grounds therefore this disc is a veritable treasure trove.
Not surprisingly this disc has received many plaudits of praise from all but one reviewer who finds the sound to be disappointingly shallow. I am fortunately in a position to check this problem and to suggest an explanation for anyone who is specifically concerned about the sonics as follows:
Over the last 12 years or so I have bought three generations of the top Marantz CD players and amplifiers. These are to be found in different rooms at home and are all connected to PMC speakers that are the sort used for reference purposes. The wiring is of the same level. By playing this disc on all three matched systems I can report that the tonal qualities of the disc change markedly. The oldest set produces the fullest but least analytical sound and the two newer sets get progressively more analytical but at the cost of fullness of tone. Normally it is fair to say that the newer equipment gives the best response but with this disc, for whatever reason, it is arguable that the oldest and least hi-fi set would give the most satisfactory sound to some ears.
My guess is that the better the playback equipment beyond a certain good level, the increasingly analytical sound thus achieved will cause some people dissatisfaction. Those with good but more modest equipment, most purchasers I would guess, will not be affected by this so maybe a question of more equals less on the occasion!
In summary I would suggest that this disc is outstanding in its unique way as well as offering an invaluable window into the world of Rachmaninov. I have no issues with the sound quality either. For anyone interested in hearing a close approximation of Rachmaninov `live' I would suggest that this disc deserves serious consideration.
on 6 January 2014
Having a long dead piano virtuoso and composer playing in your living room in perfect fidelity is a luxury of our times, and even more so when he was gone before any decent recording media was invented. If only instead of some national anthem there was a less inappropriate piece, this record would have my 5 stars without any doubt.