RCA: Artistes Répertoires

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: RCA

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 Pianists of an older generation are featured in RCA’s Artistes Répertoires double packs from France. These may be an inexpensive way to acquire some classic performances, but the packaging is flimsy, the booklet notes perfunctory, the cover artwork sometimes risible and the transfers not always good.

RCA’s William Kapell edition served him better than this album which includes concertos by BEETHOVEN, KHACHATURIAN and RACHMANINOFF (74321 84595 2), where the high frequencies have been emasculated, presumably in the quest to reduce 78rpm surface noise.

Arthur Rubinstein comes up more freshly in FRENCH MUSIC (74321 84606 2), though again the older recordings are muffled. Why couldn’t RCA have used the same masterings as in their Rubinstein edition?

MUSSORGSKY’s Pictures at an Exhibition is the main work in a Vladimir Horowitz issue (74321 84594 2) with sonatas and other works by SCRIABIN and CLEMENTI. Here the sound is good, and the sprinkling of live recordings gives the usual frisson of Horowitz on show.

Sviatoslav Richter comes out best of all (74321 84605 2), with a laid-back BRAHMS Second Concerto (Chicago SO/Leinsdorf) and an elegant BEETHOVEN First Concerto with Charles Münch, who also surfaces in several albums of French music.

Most notable is his DEBUSSY and CHAUSSON, with a radiant Poème from David Oistrakh (74321 84591 2); and Münch’s BERLIOZ, with the Symphonie fantastique and various overtures – Roman Carnival fairly sizzles along – only disappoints in a harshly recorded Nuits d’été with Victoria de los Angeles (74321 84587 2).

Staying with French music, KOECHLIN’s Jungle Book and Seven Stars Symphony (74321 84596 2) come in excellent Nineties performances with David Zinman and James Judd – listen to Iris Vermillion in the opening ‘Seal Lullaby’, and be seduced.

While it’s good to see Seiji Ozawa’s strong 1967 version of MESSIAEN’s Turangalîla Symphony at last available on CD (74321 84601 2), the coupling, of symphonies by ROUSSEL under Marek Janowski, gives the impression of a compilation thrown together in haste, as does the collection of four SCHUBERT symphonies, three with Günter Wand, and one with Fritz Reiner (74321 84607 2).

But you’ll still find more satisfaction here than in the Pritchard Schubert disc I mentioned earlier, and Reiner in MAHLER’s Fourth Symphony (coupled with Das Lied von der Erde – 74321 84599 2) would be a viable alternative to Horenstein, if only the left and right channels weren’t reversed throughout.

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By all means pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap, but do get it right.