Rachmaninov Plays Rachmaninov

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Zenph Studios Re-Performances: Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3/2; Étude-tableaux, Op. 33 Nos 2 & 7; Moment musical in E flat minor, Op. 16/2; various arrangements etc
PERFORMER: Sergey Rachmaninov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88697 48971 2

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Thanks to the use of some highly sophisticated computer technology, Zenph have sought to transform Rachmaninov’s historic, primitively recorded solo recordings that were made between 1921 and 1942 for RCA, into live concert hall performances captured in modern sound – the aim being to replicate as far as possible the spirit and musical intensity of the original. Yet to what extent such a process could ever completely attain this objective remains an open question.

On first hearing, the results are impressive, particularly in the binaural version, intended to be experienced with headphones and offered here as a supplement to the conventional recording. Using a 1909 Steinway D, there’s little doubt Zenph’s enhanced sound quality makes one appreciate the warmth and clarity of Rachmaninov’s playing with its lightness of touch, sparing use of the pedal and avoidance of indulgent mannerisms.

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And yet there are some nagging doubts which are perhaps felt most strongly in the faster items such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ or the Prelude from Bach’s Violin Third Partita where the flurry of notes and limited dynamic range create a slightly detached and at times mechanical feeling. Even so, the opportunity to hear Rachmaninov’s performances in decent sound shouldn’t be passed off lightly. Erik Levi