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S. Mitchell (Glasgow, Scotland)
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Mariss Jansons Live, The Radio Recordings 1990-2014
Mariss Jansons Live, The Radio Recordings 1990-2014
Price: £92.29

3.0 out of 5 stars A Feast Spoiled, 10 July 2016
I was about to invest in this supposedly magnificent 14-CD set, when I discovered there was a cut in the finale of Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony. That rules it out.


Khachaturian: Symphony No. 2 [Russian Philharmonic Orchestra; Dmitry Yablonsky] [Naxos: 8570436]
Khachaturian: Symphony No. 2 [Russian Philharmonic Orchestra; Dmitry Yablonsky] [Naxos: 8570436]
Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly faithful, thrilling account of a mocked masterpiece., 12 May 2016
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Khachaturian is one of those guilty indulgences, sweet secret pleasures of life that are better not mentioned in polite musical company, for fear of snobbish, sneering dismissal, as if the composer is a byword for brash, sub-musical, noisy and crappy garbage. Never mind the fact that he was rated in his time one of the Soviet Union's "Top 3" (with Prokofiev and Shostakovich), got slated along with them at the infamous congress of 1948 chaired by Zhdanov, [who had the disgusting effrontery to criticise their work, when he was a musically illiterate buffoon himself and merely a puppet of Stalin], - and became one of the most popular Russian composers of the 20th century among the masses who enjoy wonderful melodies, exotic orchestration, atmospheric orientalism and heart-stopping rhythmic vitality. How does Pierre Boulez (and his like) shape up against those perennially primary criteria of musical integrity???? I digress.
Well, we are surely in the 21st century long past these patronising, superior attitudes from critics and others whose compositional skills are beneath contemptible. My own love affair with Khach. began 54 years ago when the Romanian pianist Mindru Katz and Sir Adrian Boult recorded on LP the marvellous Piano Concerto, often issued on disc and most recently in a stunning new version by Xiayin Wang and the RSNO under Peter Oundjian, on Chandos. That recording (Katz/Boult) has never been surpassed and still sounds terrific sonically. It's still available on CD. Then came the ballet suites and full scores (Gayaneh, Spartacus and Masquerade), the Violin Concerto, the 3 Concert Rhapsodies, piano works (Toccata, Sonata) and sundry other gems. Then, of course, there are the magnificent 3 symphonies, of No.2 appears here in a new recording by the superb, but under-rated Russian Philharmonic and D. Yablonsky. This symphony is the most recorded of the 3, and is a powerfully moving experience. Predictably, it was the subject of much vitriol and scorn when the composer's own recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (no less!) appeared on Decca in the 1960s. One favourite quip which first appeared in the Gramophone review of the original LP, and was later reprinted many times in the Penguin Record Guide, came from the poisonous pen of Trevor Harvey, a prince of self-opinionated critics if ever there was one, and went like this : The quality of the music is in inverse proportion to the noise. Ha, hah, ha. Nice one, Trev. Pity that yours is the name music-lovers now forget, while Khachaturian's goes from strength to strength. Symphony No. 2, then, is well worth investing in at Naxos' give-away price. Revel in the glorious manipulation of a master whose skills still have the power to thrill incandescently and satisfy the yearnings of all but the most jaded palates for luxurious sound, here allied to a distinctively Armenian symphonic design. I'd give away a hundred modernist symphonic efforts before I would part with Khachaturian's "Bell" Symphony. And if you can listen to the exquisite pathos of the last few pages (before the shattering final bars) without tears, then I reckon something's gone wrong with your emotional DNA!!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 2, 2016 12:47 PM BST


Piano Concertos [Xiayin Wang; Royal Scottish National Orchestra , Peter Oundjian] [CHANDOS: CHSA 5167]
Piano Concertos [Xiayin Wang; Royal Scottish National Orchestra , Peter Oundjian] [CHANDOS: CHSA 5167]
Price: £14.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another superb triumph for this team, in a unique concerto combination., 10 April 2016
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It's a thrill and delight to see Xiayin Wang recording once more for Chandos, with the magnificent Royal Scottish national Orchestra and their current brilliant Director, Peter Oundjian. This is her second concerto disc, the earlier one (of 3 American concertos) of which I rave-reviewed - Q.V.
Her pianistic virtuosity is again here on wonderful display in 2 lesser-known Russian works. As a piano concerto aficionado for nearly 60 years, I can once more state that in Miss Wang we have a superlative talent which Chandos have wisely scooped and I hope will go on to record in concertos at regular intervals. (I must also say her solo discs are spectacular as well.) This disc is a first in one respect - there has never been a coupling of these two concerti before, and having taken receipt of the CD today and just finished listening to it right through, I assure all interested that I've seldom spent such an exhilarating 75 minutes for a long time. Her Khachaturian is my 16th recording of this wonderful piece, and her Tchaikovsky 2 is my 35th. This is because both have been favourites of mine since early teenage years, when the benchmark versions were (respectively) by Romanian Mindru Katz, with Boult and the LPO, and Shura Cherkassky, with Kraus and the Berlin PO. This last, however, was the truncated Taneiev edition, nowadays superseded by the original which X. Wang here plays. Katz in Khachaturian (still available) was always one of the great recordings of the LP era, and Wang comes within a whisker of equalling it; in fact her interpretation is a virtual copy of Katz.
In Tchaik. 2, her virtuosity is astounding and her articulation in the densest passages scarcely credible. Her tempi are all well-chosen too, unlike Hough in the Finale who reduces it to a gabble, in my view. Wang is more effective in holding the presto approach back till the coda, instead of galloping into it from the very start.
So, another triumph for the whole team, Wang and everybody else. One can only congratulate them warmly, assure them of my ecstatic appreciation of this fantastic achievement, and greedily urge the company to plan out a long sequence of further concerto recordings with that little bit extra, that unique selling point illustrated by this disc, in its all-time-first coupling of these two war-horses. But really, anything they do will be greeted with a cheer by all who love the concert piano repertoire and the constantly rising standards we are privileged to enjoy these days.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2016 8:33 PM BST


Ravel: Complete Piano Works
Ravel: Complete Piano Works
Price: £13.58

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Ravel, but the "Benchmark" label is meaningless, 22 Feb. 2016
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This is undoubtedly superb Ravel playing. One can only marvel at what lies behind it as its mellifluous trajectory unfolds across the double CD, and at bargain price too! There is Mr. Chamayou's talent, already familiar to piano-lovers from his spectacular Liszt recordings; then his total mastery of the transcendental demands upon his technique that Ravel places; then his profound mastery of the idiom; his superlative poetry; staggering virtuosity; and ability to commit all this to record in the tense atmosphere of the studio. Piano-playing won't come any finer than this.
Nevertheless, to call this wonderful artistic achievement the "benchmark" version is, with respect to another reviewer, pointless and rather misguided. For it implies all other previous versions are now redundant. This is quite wrong. Even the old 1955 Vlado Perlemuter version, which Chamayou says he worshipped, still has unique insights that make it a treasurable experience. Any self-respecting collector of excellent piano-playing across the last 50 - 60 years is bound already to possess many complete issues of Ravel's piano oeuvre. The music is so rich that no one performer can ever capture every last amazing nuance, for there is enormous scope for different approaches. So do not ignore all who came before. Just revel in the delight of having such a wealth of life-enhancing art to choose from and dip into. Of course, the superb recording quality is testament to the fantastic advances engineers have made in recent years in capturing what was a challenging sound in an earlier era of sonics. All in all, congratulations to all concerned, starting with the shade of the composer himself!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2016 10:31 AM BST


Rachmaninoff: Études-Tableaux (Complete)
Rachmaninoff: Études-Tableaux (Complete)
Price: £10.33

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sunning renditions of the Mighty Russian's masterly Etudes., 9 Jan. 2016
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This is truly phenomenal Rachmaninov-playing, and fantastic recorded sound too, characteristic of this company's world-beating standards in the studio. Fortunate indeed are the keyboard artists signed up by PIANO CLASSICS. Every issue is a winner.
Zlata Chochieva undoubtedly on this evidence is a spectacular talent. Every note she records hereafter will be snapped up by pianophiles and conaisseurs, because she seems to possess the rare capacity to unlock beauties in familiar works that eluded everyone else. Rachmaninov's two sets of Etudes -Tableaux, Opus 33 and 39, 17 pieces in all, used to be regarded as much inferior to his better known 24 Preludes, Opus 3/2, 23 and 32. That wonderful volume, the encyclopedia of piano literature which came out around 1951, authored by Irwin Freundlich and James Friskin, wrote them off in a few dismissive words as "possessing little musical worth", as if they were a prime example of the great composer's waning powers after his Opus 32, defying the evidence of his sustained stream of masterpieces written in his years of exile in America. I have collected 25 different versions of Opus 39 and 22 of Opus 33. And I can assure you, if you've never explored these miniatures and think they can be ignored next to the Preludes, you will discover a treasury of piano composition, a stellar compendium of supreme, virtuosic conceptions that will catapult you on to a new level of appreciation not just of Rachmaninov himself, reward enough, but of the grandeur and potential of the concert grand piano. Each and every one of the 17 pieces contains a wealth of pianistic glory and musical satisfaction, and in this latest recording, Miss Chochieva takes all the credit. Her achievement left me staggered, jaw-droppingly amazed that someone of her youthful gifts could show such total mastery of the music's Everest-like demands. She is absolute genius. I remember the first record (vinyl) ever released of the second set, Opus 39, as a complete block. It was around 1962 and the BBC, who occasionally released broadcast performances on LP of rarer music, chose to offer this marvellous material for a limited period. The pianist was Valerie Tryon. But the performances here by Ms. Chochieva are light-years away from those early, competent (but no more) efforts by a British pianist who was highly regarded in her day and much in the public eye. Z|lata reveals the Etudes-Tableaux, now almost a century old, as surely one of the piano's supreme masterworks of the 20th century, proof of the composer's uniquely wonderful, sublimely magisterial command of the instrument which so many of us have found an indispensable, infinitely precious companion along the road of life. As for Freundlich and Friskin, those poor benighted musicologists have been shown up as ignorant idiots, typical, alas, of much philistine, shallow criticism of the mighty Russian that passed for knowledgeable criticism in the 1950s and 60s. Pierre Boulez, God rest his soul, was one of the worst culprits. Stravinsky, however, knew better. So piano-lovers out there - buy this incredible sample of contemporary concert-pianism, and look out for anything that this poetic tigress, technician extraordinaire and artist of formidable abilities, Zlata Chochieva, chooses to record. I need hardly add that her other Rachmaninov triumph, featuring the First Sonata (magnificent masterpiece!) and Chopin Variations, - also on Piano Classics - is another gem that no lover of piano playing should be without. Wonderful, life-enhancing, and so cheap at the price too! Give us more, please!


Prokofiev & Tchaikovsky - Piano Concertos
Prokofiev & Tchaikovsky - Piano Concertos
Price: £8.54

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good though that was, 10 Dec. 2015
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I had resolutely decided NOT to buy this disc. After all, my total collection of Tchaikovsky Number Ones runs into 3 figures, and I felt nobody could add anything that 100 other pianists over the last 65 years have already accomplished, from Horowitz onwards. And as I write this, I still have not heard the first 2 movements of the Tchaikovsky, only the Finale on the radio. Good though that was, I don't think I would buy this disc for that reason. The real thrill lies in the Prokofiev No. 2. This horrendously difficult work I have already collected in 28 different recordings, starting with Jorge Bolet and Shura Cherkassky from the 1950s. Both of these giants, however, abbreviated the formidable cadenza in the first movement , so could never be seen as first choices, only historical curiosities. The one I learned the piece from was the version recorded by Yakov Zak in the Soviet Union around 1960, and I'll always hold that in deep affection. It can be had on a CD transfer.
Over the years I've always pounced on new recordings and have relished many an awesome, jawdropping display of Prokofievian pianism from a range of big names. Now to this disc by Beatrice Rana. Something swayed me to buy it after some hesitation. The 2 acid tests are the colossal solo cadenza in the opening movement , then the brief second movement, a perpetuum mobile for the piano in rapid semiquavers which never lets up in its relentless career. It must be one of the most nightmarish tests of a pianist in the whole repertoire. Miss Rana passes both these tests with flying colours, and with the support of the fabulous Italian orchestra turns in an exhibition of transcendental mastery that defies belief, all the more so considering her youthful years. Quite simply, here is a performance to equal anything that has previously passed for a fine rendition of this fearfully challenging concerto. In fact , it shoots to the top of the list of great recordings of this magnificent, but grimly daunting work. The Tchaikovsky, then, is just a bonus. The miracle and supremely unbeatable standard is to be treasured in the Prokofiev. The great composer must surely be applauding among the angels at this realisation of his daring, early modernist inspiration which is the "PROKOFIEV NUMBER TWO."


Rachmaninoff Complete Piano Works, Vol. 3
Rachmaninoff Complete Piano Works, Vol. 3
Price: £14.66

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly beautiful, but inauthentic Rachmaninov, 29 Nov. 2015
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In my review of Volume 1 of this traversal of every note Rachmaninov wrote for solo piano (except, unfortunately, the original Second Sonata of 1913), I stressed the phenomenal beauty of the sound achieved by Mr. Pizarro and the Odradek recording team. This is Rachmaninov for the ultra-refined listener, who revels in the fantastic inventiveness of harmony, counterpoint and sheer sophistication of the composer's genius that makes him surely the most emotionally satisfying and companionable of all the composer-pianists of the Romantic and late Romantic eras. For my money, he even excels Chopin, simply because the vocabulary and potential of harmony had not yet been tapped by composers of the earlier 19th century to the marvellous extent that Rachmaninov and others were able to do, in the first decades of the 20th century. That criterion naturally puts pianist- composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Brahms out of the running too. Debussy and Ravel are a different story, of course. But there is more to Rachmaninov than merely extraordinary refinement. This issue I would say is for pianophiles who worship Debussy above all others. One cannot detract from the standards of gorgeous sound production and reproduction demonstrated in this series, and I wouldn't want to be without it, but only for those times and moods when Rachmaninov's sublime, preternatural, bejewelled refinement is what I want to feed my piano-loving soul.
There is a wholly other dimension to this music which Pizarro seems to want to avoid, the thrill, the incandescent, driving momentum of works which demand an utter abandonment to the limitless excitement of the modern concert grand, which the great Russian knew how to exploit to the full - the sort of hair-raising magnificence that the greatest exponents down the years have captured, like Richter, Michelangeli, Janis, Matsuev, Horowitz, and a vast number of others. I said in my Vol.1 review that the anticipated Sonata no. 1 in Vol.3 would be an acid test, and it is indeed. Predictably beautiful, it fails nevertheless to rise above the soporific and dull, even providing ammunition for those who have never seen this towering masterpiece as anything other than an inferior work from the master's desk. Pizarro simply takes too long (43 mins.) over it and deprives it of the swashbuckling energy and unstoppable dynamic that its really great performers manage, and thus prove it to be an unqualified masterwork - Ogdon (in his earlier recording), Howard, Rodriguez, Minaar, Paik and Weissenberg. These performances set the benchmark by which all others must be judged, and, most regrettably, this performance falls far short. But it's still a marvel of beauty - for those who like their Rach. to sound like
Debussy !


Rachmaninov:Piano Concertos [Lise de la Salle; Philharmonia Zürich, Fabio Luisi] [PHILHARMONIA REC: PHR 0104]
Rachmaninov:Piano Concertos [Lise de la Salle; Philharmonia Zürich, Fabio Luisi] [PHILHARMONIA REC: PHR 0104]
Price: £25.40

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly satisfactory, but a caveat in Concerto No.3, 26 Nov. 2015
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This latest offering of the complete Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra from the brilliant young Lise de la Salle, accompanied by a very competent and stylish Zurich Philharmonia under the fine conductorship of Fabio Luisi, is an impressive achievement. It is interesting to see a plethora of young female concert pianists attempting this Everest-like challenge in recent years. Here, my assessment of the individual pieces would be :- Concerto No. 1, 5 STARS (though another very recent rendition by Denis Matsuev surely wrings the last ounce of spectacular virtuosity from this delightful score, a merger of the young composer's Opus 1 and the highly sophisticated keyboard technique and harmony he had cultivated by the time of his Opus 39 Etudes-Tableaux in 1917 when Concerto No. 1 was revised.) Concerto No.2, 4 STARS, because the opening tempo is extremely slow (like Richter's) but not (like his) redeemed by a helter-skelter finale. Concerto No.4, 4 STARS, because every post-Michelangeli performance has to match or excel the Italian master's astounding recording of 1957 (impossible!). Paganini Rhapsody, 5 STARS, - a superb performance which thankfully repairs the catastrophically lost double glissando on the last page which Daniel Trifonov missed in his otherwise fine effort, recently and ignorantly praised to the heavens by critics who obviously didn't bother to listen to variation 24. Which leaves the formidable, acid test of Concerto No.3, and I give that 3 STARS. My reservations concern the soporifically slow tempo for the first movement, and the strenuous, hectoring piano sound in the lesser cadenza at its climax. The piano sounds increasingly stressed out as the performance wears on.
Another disappointment is the definitely under-powered, underwhelming build-up to the first movement's development-climax which, if you remember the incandescent version of Byron Janis and Antal Dorati, should blow your socks off, like Michelangeli in the 4th's first movement climax.
So I'm sorry to say that for me, this set is ultimately an also-ran. But given the fantastic range of alternatives from the last 50 years, no aspiring artist can realistically hope to scoop the top award in every concerto. Congratulations anyway on this confirmation of an exceptional talent.


Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, Tombeau de Couperin, La Valse
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, Tombeau de Couperin, La Valse
Price: £25.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous, poetic virtuosity, 7 Nov. 2015
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This hitherto unknown artist is absolutely superb in Ravel, her wonderful sensitivity in Gaspard, that supreme test of any pianist's competence, proving to be utterly captivating of the work's intense mystery and poeticism. She should be much better known and I hope this disc will be a clarion-call to pianophiles to follow her career. If this is a sample of what she can do, I can't wait to hear more. Congratulations! And to the engineers too for their part in producing so fine a recital.


Rachmaninov Variations
Rachmaninov Variations
Price: £9.99

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RHAPSODY RUINED BY A MOMENT OF MADNESS, 10 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Rachmaninov Variations (Audio CD)
I love the 5 Rachmaninov concertos, and have found them for 55 years the most wonderful musical companions of life. So you will never hear from me any hint of reservation over the quality of this music. My shelves are overloaded with hundreds of recordings of these works alone. So what astonishes me about this issue??? I preordered it knowing Trifonov and the Philadelphians would create a superlative document that would very likely sweep most of the vast competition away. Similarly with his playing of the Corelli and Chopin Variations, plus the fantastic bonus of his own Rachmaniana. My expectations were fulfilled in every respect - but there is one spectacular flaw which none of the other reviewers have mentioned, and it's enough to spoil the whole disc and dent my confidence in Mr. Trifonov seriously. Where is THE DOUBLE-HANDED PIANO GLISSANDO on the last page of the Rhapsody? It is completely inaudible!!!! What the devil happened? Did Daniil have a momentary blackout, or memory lapse, or did some engineer suddenly switch off the piano mike, then on again? The thing is inexplicable. The score marks the effect FORTISSIMO, so the pianist couldn't have altered the dynamics for those two seconds. The effect is absolutely climactic for the final variation and for this sparkling keyboard ascent to the very heights to be missing is one DIRE PROBLEM. It's not my music system, because when I heard the passage played in my car as part of the BBC's CD Review it was just the same. This is one enormous pianistic or engineering faux-pas which could easily have been remedied. So my otherwise 5 star assessment is knocked back to 3, because I could certainly not recommend this recording of the marvellous Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini as a first choice - and all because of one MOMENT OF MADNESS!!
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2016 7:07 PM BST


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