Rachmaninov: Morceux de fantaisie, Op. 3; Etudes Tableux, Op. 39/4 & 6

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Morceux de fantaisie, Op. 3; Etudes Tableux, Op. 39/4 & 6
PERFORMER: Sergei Rachmaninov (piano roll, realised by Wayne Stahnke
CATALOGUE NO: CD 80489
Anyone who (like me) doubts the ability of recordings made by and for reproducing pianos to convey the inimitable inflections of great pianists is in for a shock on hearing this disc. Wayne Stahnke has reconstructed the information included on the original master rolls of Rachmaninov’s Ampico recordings, made it computer-readable, and then played it back on an electrically operated reproducing piano capable of far greater subtlety than traditional pneumatic mechanisms.

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The results represent a quantum leap beyond Decca’s reproductions of these recordings, which in turn are far preferable to most other reproducing piano recordings (such as Nimbus’s Grand Piano Project). From the first moments of the C sharp minor Prelude, the dynamic gradations, voicings and even pedallings are not just noticeable but generally characteristic of Rachmaninov’s playing as revealed on disc recordings. Not all is ideal: the recording sometimes loosens the awesome rhythmic focus of Rachmaninov’s playing, the dynamic range within chords or simultaneities can seem less extreme than it probably was, and the next step would be to find a piano that sounds more like those of Rachmaninov’s day. But this is a notable achievement. At last listeners who can’t tolerate surface noise can get a reasonable impression of Rachmaninov’s utterly distinctive and magical playing. David Breckbill