Decca: Legends

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca: Legends

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I wish there were a bit more virtuosity and risk-taking in Haitink’s account of SHOSTAKOVICH’s Eighth Symphony (467 465-2), with a cautious opening to the first movement, and a moto perpetuo which lacks real bite.

Maybe that’s why it ended up on Eloquence rather than Decca’s own Legends label, where facsimiles of the original sleeves accompany newly written notes trumpeting the legendary status of the recordings.

Solti’s 1964 LSO recording of MAHLER’s First Symphony (458 622-2) was the best-played and best-recorded version available at the time. It still stands up, though as always with Solti, I wish he could be a bit yielding in the more tender string passages, and not drive the climaxes so hard.

He’s much better suited to BARTÓK (467 686-2), with a Concerto for Orchestra that has all the Hungarian temperament you could want: even more up his street is the brutalism of The Miraculous Mandarin and the motoric rhythms of the Dance Suite.

Sharing nationality with the composer also works to Vladimir Ashkenazy’s advantage in the complete RACHMANINOFF Preludes (467 685-2), where he is entirely inside the music, in turn brilliant and affectionate, but never relapsing into sentimentality. And the piano sound is full and natural, something not always granted to him in later years.

It’s equally refreshing to hear him in the TCHAIKOVSKY B flat minor Concerto (458 628-2), a piece which he is alleged not to like, but which he treats with delicacy rather than riding it to death as an old war-horse.

On the other hand, Josef Suk and Julius Katchen plainly love the music of BRAHMS, and their classic recording of the violin sonatas has rarely been out of the catalogue (466 393-2).

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Full-toned, impassioned, with impeccable timing and rubato, it’s everything these works need, and every home should have one.