Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Discovered: the 'holy grail' of piano recordings?

Mark Ainley of The Piano Files has just revealed the discovery and imminent release of something utterly extraordinary. A 'live' - i.e., non-commercial/studio - recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his own music has long been considered by some to be the 'holy grail' for historical piano aficionados. Against all the odds, one has finally turned up.

It dates from 1940 and on it you can even hear Rachmaninoff singing along and speaking to his colleague Eugene Ormandy while playing. Marston Records will be releasing it in as part of a 3-CD set of the great pianist-composer's non-commercial recordings on 4 September.

Above, a taster video compiled by Mark. He says:

"I am delighted to share this announcement of the discovery and imminent release of one of the most astounding historical piano recordings that I believe has ever been discovered - one that I don't think anyone could have imagined existing. 
"For years there has been conjecture about a 'live' recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff at the piano - and what has recently been located is completely different than what might have been expected, yet also beyond what anyone could have imagined, and I anticipate that all piano fans and Rachmaninoff admirers will be thrilled at this phenomenal discovery. 
"...The playing is I believe the finest that exists of the legendary pianist-composer, so incredibly mesmerizing and intoxicating in its beauty, with magnificent refinement and exuberance, that I find it to be on a whole other plane from everything we have heard of him before."

Marston Records, introducing the video, says:
Rachmaninoff Plays Symphonic Dances: Newly Discovered 1940 Recording is a three-CD set which highlights Sergei Rachmaninoff at the piano playing his Symphonic Dances Op.45.   At a private gathering with conductor Eugene Ormandy, Rachmaninoff demonstrated just how he wanted his new orchestral work Symphonic Dances to be performed, playing a single-piano reduction of the score for a single piano while singing and given spoken commentary to Ormandy, to whom the work was dedicated and who would premiere it two weeks later.  The recently discovered recording of Rachmaninoff at the keyboard is presented twice in this set: first edited to conform to the score, and again just as the occasion unfolded, with Rachmaninoff jumping from place to place as he demonstrates, comments, and sings. The playing throughout is absolutely phenomenal - some of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, that exists of Rachmaninoff on record. Additional performances of Rachmaninoff’s works are also included, and the voluminous booklet includes an insightful essay by Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music. Further essays include A Musician's Reaction, in which Jorge Bolet's pupil Ira Levin discusses this performance in the context of live vs. studio recordings, and a lengthy Note From the Producers about the recordings in this volume.   Other performers whom Rachmaninoff admired are included in this set: pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch in his stupendous 1946 BBC broadcast of the Paganini Rhapsody (from newly obtained source material in superb sound), mezzo soprano Nadezhda Plevitskaya, and conductors Adrian Boult, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski.  Every known non-commercial recording of Rachmaninoff, including the important Bell Laboratories recording (a six-minute excerpt) of Rachmaninoff playing during a 1931 recital, is also featured - the 1931 performance featuring excerpts of Ballades by Brahms and Liszt that are absolutely mesmerizing.   “It is with tremendous pride that I release Rachmaninoff Plays Symphonic Dances.  I feel this is one of the most important achievements of my career.” - Ward Marston