LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
PERFORMER: Van Cliburn (piano)Moscow PO/Kiril Kondrashin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62695 2 ADD
Tape hiss, audience noise and an incredibly fruity Russian horn immediately establish the ‘historic’ credentials of this Brahms B flat Concerto recorded in concert in the Moscow Conservatory in 1972. While dedicated Van Cliburn fans will want it, it wouldn’t come high on my list of recommended versions, unlike Cliburn’s 1962 recording of this work with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago SO – one of the most impressive readings of the era, worth comparison in my view with the legendary Richter/Reiner (also on RCA).
This Moscow performance is not dissimilar in broad outline (indeed Kondrashin and Reiner were a similar breed of conductor) but lacks the refinement of Cliburn’s youthful effort. It’s a big-boned, muscular, rather ruthless reading: all barnstorming efficiency (even in the finale) and taking a rather detached, not overly expressive view of the Andante.
The Rachmaninov is a much happier effort in every department. This, though a studio recording in the same hall, is the performance that generates real electricity and where one feels soloist and conductor sparking the best from each other. The sound is much clearer and the interpretation is closely focused, each variation deftly characterised and powerfully projected, but the whole span of the work welded into a single inevitable progression. Purchasers wanting a ‘classic’ Paganini Rhapsody need look no further, but they must make up their own minds whether the Brahms is worth it. Calum MacDonald