Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 4 (original versions)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 4 (original versions)
PERFORMER: Alexander Ghindin (piano); Helsinki PO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 977-2
The recording of Rachmaninoff’s First Concerto, unrevised, is a sobering lesson. The whole composition, as a composition, is tacked together. And yet much of the material is inspired. It’s sobering to think of the effort (not to mention the painful self-criticism) the revision must have cost. It was a veritable re-creation, and worth every minute it took during the autumn of 1917. In this original version dating from 1891, there are many passages whose musical character is unformed – particularly the development section of the first movement and, more surprisingly, its cadenza – alongside fully ripened Rachmaninoff. In the finale there are turns of phrase which seem, with hindsight, like simplified misrememberings of the revision.

Advertisement

The Fourth Concerto is a different matter. Conceived before Rachmaninoff left Russia for ever at the end of 1917, its first version, recorded here, was not completed until 1926. The version usually performed today is the second of two revisions and dates from 1941, only two years before Rachmaninoff died. Although the result is elliptical, it suits the much drier ideas, and the revised ending, to my mind, is more satisfying than the original. The finale, as Rachmaninoff recognised, had long passages without much tension and he was right to cut them, and the opening of the movement was changed for the better. Yet the work as a whole is recognisably the same. It’s just good to be able to decide for oneself whether the first or last version is better.

Advertisement

This disc fulfils a valuable function, then, and the young Russian soloist, Alexander Ghindin, makes it all sound so easy. Adrian Jack