Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Paganini Rhapsody. Lang Lang, piano; Valery Gergiev, Orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre. DG B0003902-02.

Yet another live recording. Ho-hum. I’m not sure why DG, EMI, and other major record companies have been so keen these past ten or more years on recording so many performances before a live audience, but it isn’t helping the sonics of the recordings any. I suppose it’s a matter of economics, in essence the audience helping subsidize the cost of the production. Well, at least DG spare us any applause here.

Popular virtuoso pianist Lang Lang shows a mature if largely lackluster approach to Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, appropriately focusing his attention on the work’s long sigh of a second movement rather than on the portentous introduction or the somewhat romanticized finale. Still, Lang Lang’s clearly conservative approach to the score tends to diminish some of the work’s appeal.

Fortunately, the pianist more amply displays his virtuoso technique in the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, where his fingers dazzle and the keyboard lights up, if sometimes in a fairly heavy-handed, even wayward, fashion. The biggest “however,” though, is that I don’t believe these performances match any of the over half a dozen classic interpretations I had on hand from Janis, Rubinstein, Cliburn, Ashkenazy, Argerich, Wild, Horowitz, and others, despite how skillful Lang Lang may appear. Needless to say, the eighteenth Paganini variation, the Andante Cantabile, still sounds ravishing, no matter who’s playing it.

Still, there is that nagging issue of the sonics because the live recording never seems to come to life. It’s more than a bit soft and vague, the instruments often seeming too recessed compared to the piano, which, miked closely, sometimes looms in the foreground twenty feet wide. Nor is the perception of depth too impressive. Fortunately, the dynamics and bass are OK, if not quite as solid as I’d like. A quick listen to Rubinstein doing the Paganini Variations close to fifty years earlier on an RCA Living Stereo disc makes one wonder just how far we’ve advanced in sound recording, if at all.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa