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Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, September 2011

This disc is another fine example of the luck music-lovers of today have in being able to listen to great performers from the past. To have access to the pianism of Sergei Rachmaninov is a true privilege and this despite the inevitable background noise on recordings made up to 86 years ago.

Every track demonstrates his supreme artistry. The enormous span of his hands shows in an ability to cover so many notes so quickly when required, but it is “the space between the notes” that is just as important, as it is to be quiet as well as loud, all of which is amply demonstrated in track two. It left me breathless in admiration.

The excerpts from Beethoven’s 32 Variations show his thunderous power coupled with whispered passages that makes the experience one full of awe. His playing of Schubert on tracks 31–33 is magnificent and the clean up job done by Ward Marston is nothing short of miraculous with very little distortion remaining, despite 2 of them dating from 1925! His Liszt playing shows supreme delicacy; marvel at the Polonaise No. 2 in E major on track 35. His recording of Borodin’s Scherzo in A flat major makes me want to seek out more of Borodin’s piano music which is delightful and fabulously played here in 1935.

The Tchaikovsky recording from The Seasons is of November and was made in 1928. There is some distortion here but what comes through is really lovely and 83 years ago is a long time in recorded musical history! Track 41 is of Scriabin’s Prelude in F sharp minor and is as fine a recording of it as I’ve ever heard. The penultimate track is from Paderewski’s Humoresque de concert, No. 1 - Menuet célèbre and is 3:55 of pure joy whilst the last track is of Johann Strauss II’s Valse Caprice No. 2, arranged by Tausig. Once again it shows Rachmaninov as a supreme artist who could be thunderous when required and as quiet and light as you could possibly want at other times. The total experience makes you shake your head in wonder. This was recorded in 1927 and stands as both an amazing tribute to a towering talent as well as a wonderful job performed by Ward Marston as audio restoration engineer.

This is a disc to cherish and for anyone who can ignore those imperfections that remain is a truly glorious experience.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2011

Forty-three tracks of piano music played by Sergey Rachmaninov ranging in era from Bach to Scriabin. They all come from that period of recordings when music chosen for the popular market depended on its ability to fit on sides of discs, anything other than multiples of four minutes causing commercial problems. Even Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor had to be cut down in size to fit two sides. As you will discover, the age of the recording is not indicative of sound quality, the opening Bach Partita from 1925 being a cut above the 1936 recording of an extract from Handel’s Fifth Suite. Of course Rachmaninov’s performances show little of today’s ‘period correctness’, a jerky approach seems to have been his response. Unlike other pianists of the time, he would keep recording the same work until he was satisfied he had achieved technical perfection. That is obvious in the total accuracy of his fingers throughout this disc. That he could be willfully idiosyncratic you will encounter in the Turkish March from Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens where he does his best to make it himself into a Turkish band. Then the disc comes into the era where he was at ‘home’ with his gorgeously rippling Fourth of Schubert’s opus 90 Impromptus. His technical virtuosity and aristocratic approach arrives in the Second of Liszt’s Polonaises in outstanding 1925 sound. A further example of his drive for perfection comes with the fact that he apparently recording twenty-two performances of Mendelssohn’s brief Spinning Song just to make sure he had the one he wanted. There is a typically Russian approach to Borodin and Tchaikovsky and we have the only Scriabin he ever recorded coming with the eighth of his Preludes. He ends on a lighthearted mood with Tausig’s arrangement of Johann Strauss’s Valse Caprice. Surface noise is variable, but Ward Marston’s audio restoration is exemplary.






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10:08:26 PM, 13 July 2014
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