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Van Cliburn at his best?,
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This review is from: Beethoven: Emperor' Concerto, Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 (Audio CD)
I recently acquired an RCA 7 1/2 ips reel to reel tape issued in 1962 solely of the Rachmaninov and was very disappointed at the sound, particularly as regards the balance between the piano and orchestra, which puts the piano in your living room and the orchestra next door! In quiet passages I was straining to hear the orchestra at times.
Commenting on this to an American collector of tapes I was told that his copy was exceptional (but still had balance problems) and what I was describing to him rather indicated my tape was a substandard transfer or had deteriorated over the years, a problem particularly with RCA's, it would seem. Checking the availability of a recording on Living Stereo I can across this CD. And what a difference!
Yes, there is still a balance problem with a larger than life piano, but I was able to listen directly to what the sound engineer intended, not via my old tape. And what you hear is a wonderful interpretation by Cliburn, devoid of bravura for its own sake and simply letting the music speak for itself. At first blush, Rachmaninov's 2nd doesn't immediately throw up virtuoso passages for the pianist, and this can lead to some to try and rectify it by increasing scale and tension which the composer didn't write. Not so with Cliburn, who subordinates his formidable technique to the benefit of the music.
The surprise, though, is the Beethoven, a version I hadn't heard before. The orchestral balance is better, with the ambiance of Orchestra Hall, Chicago, brilliantly retained in RCA's remastering. But it is again Cliburn's pianistic skills which, for me, have shed new light on this wonderful Beethoven concerto. The wonderful shading of colour, deftness of touch where needed, and nothing flashy simply for the sake of it. And let's not overlook Reiner's sympathetic accompinament to both of these works.
All in all, then, a wonderful record of the art of Van Cliburn, captured at Orchestra Hall, Chicago. The sound quality of these recordings, engineered by Lewis Layton, whom my American contact tells me was one of the best of his era, is beautiful, and not to be compared with Cliburns' Carnegie Hall recordings, which are inferior in sound.