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Rachmaninov / Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 2 - Rubinstein / Ormandy

Rachmaninov / Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 2 - Rubinstein / Ormandy

Dutton  CDLX 7336

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2
Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Artur Rubinstein (piano)
The Philhadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - March 11, 2017

A disc of wonderful performances where the age of the recordings sadly tells.

Of this first batch of Dutton's reissue of quadraphonic recordings, this release is arguably the most important musically & historically. The Rachmaninov is accompanied by a conductor that worked intensively with that great composer pianist, setting down recordings of the first, third and fourth concertos together (Stokowski had the honours for the second and Paganini Rhapsody) - all showcasing in miraculously good sound for the time, what became known as the Philadelphia Sound. Rubinstein played the Saint-Saens to the composer himself and was a dedicatee of Faure's, thanks to his tireless advocacy of his work.

One of a tiny handful of Rachmaninov's output that Rubinstein played, this performance glows with the spirit of the Golden Era from beginning to end. At no point is Rubinstein shamelessly playing to the gallery but equally his performance belongs in the same company as that of the composers and is similarly paced to Ashkenazy's famous account (Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos & Paganini Rhapsody - Ashkenazy, Previn). Stephen Hough's "spring clean" of this work on Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos (complete) - Stephen Hough is worth tracking down too but it lacks the aristocratic feeling imparted by Rubinstein here. And the Philadelphia Sound? In the closing coda of the Rachmaninov, this is glorious - one only wishes tape had been around for the composer himself.

The Saint-Seans concerto is given a good, if not outstanding reading here. Sadly there is little in the way of competition, Rubinstein himself in a much-feted earlier recording (Franck, Liszt, Saint-Saens: Piano concertos - Rubinstein, Wallenstein) and Anna Malikova (Saint-Saëns: The Piano Concertos - Malikova, Sanderling) with an "off air" account from Gilels (Saint-Saëns: 3 Concertos - Gilels, Rostropovich, Grumiaux). Compared to his younger self (and his Rachmaninov), there are a tiny number of moments of fragility of playing in the scherzo where one senses the mind is willing but cannot command the fingers quite as prodigiously as before. Strangely presented at a higher level than the Rachmaninov, the recording here is more noticeably comprised above the stave but the sheer persuasiveness of the playing just about carries the day.

The de Falla is again a remake of justly famous account that the pianist set down in his younger days (Rachmaninov: Paganini Rhapsody, Falla: Nights in the Garden of Spain - Rubinstein, Reiner, Jorda). Naturally, this recording doesn't sound as smoothly as Falla: The Three Cornered Hat etc. - Pons but more than makes up for itself in the atmosphere of the playing and conducting which really are on another level altogether. It's just a shame that the recording doesn't live up to the standards of the musicianship.

The aural picture is slightly odd and in comparison to the miracles that Pentatone served up in the their RQR series, a little disappointing. That is almost entirely due though to the storage of the tapes and the decisions of the original engineering team that places the listener on the podium with the orchestra spread out around them when listening in MCH. The age of the tapes reveals itself mainly in the upper registers of the instruments, so that there is a slightly unpleasant edge a lot of the time. This is to those seeking wonderfully musical playing, of little concern but there are better recorded more sterile accounts available on SACD and lo-res mediums. As those familiar with Dutton's other work will know, any technical short-comings are not theirs.

Although not a demonstration disc from the perspectives of the engineering art form, there can be no doubt that this is musically important and, above all, satisfying to listen to repeatedly - the performances (like Rachmaninov's) transcend the limitations the recordings place on the performers.

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comment by hiredfox - January 25, 2017 (1 of 9)

I have the LP of this work but it is in Mono. Was there a stereo version? Surely not a stereo or mch SACD from a mono source.... ?

More to the point why have Dutton decided to launch re-treads after only recently entering the SACD fray? We have seen what happened to Praga after all.

Lots of questions.

Buying this disc on spec seems way beyond an act of faith to me. If anybody is offered a freebie to review please post your reaction soonest.

Comment by Credo - January 25, 2017 (2 of 9)

According to the Dutton website blog:

On this occasion we have delved into the archives of CBS and RCA for five new reissues on the Dutton Epoch label, each featuring some of classical music’s most eminent artists. Recorded in the early and mid-1970s, these albums were issued originally in discrete four-channel (quadraphonic) sound. And like the SACD-quadraphonic reissues on Epoch sister-label Vocalion, these SACD reissues include both the quadraphonic and stereo recordings in high-resolution transfers alongside the stereo recording in regular 16-bit, 44.1-khz CD sound.....
Michael J. Dutton has transferred the music exquisitely from the stereo and quadraphonic analogue masters, which has ensured that full justice is done to the superb quality of the original recordings.

Comment by john hunter - January 29, 2017 (3 of 9)

I have a few of these releases which are very well remastered by Mr Dutton.
A welcome series of which I hope there is more.

Comment by ubertrout - February 6, 2017 (4 of 9)

As others have said, these were RCA Quadraphonic releases from the early 70s. Rubinstein was getting on in years by the time these were made, and these were not his first recording, but they're still justly treasured in my opinion. Excited to hear this.

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - February 9, 2017 (5 of 9)

This batch of 1970's quadraphonic recordings from RCA and CBS (Columbia) are very welcome and are as important as the Phillips and DG offerings from Pentatone. Dutton are to be commended for making these available to us. I have bought three so far. The julian Bream, Rheinberger and Stokowski. The remastering is, on the whole very well done. The Bream disc is a real gem and has some of the best sounding analogue to DSD transfers I have heard. It is exceptionally clear, detailed and analogue sounding. I think the original recordings (especially from CBS/Columbia) were perhaps a little less subtle than the Phillips/DG ones (or is it in the re-mixing?). My set-up is balanced for 5 channel SACD so may not be ideal but imaging is very good though there is lots coming from the surround channels. In fact it is maybe better than some 5.1 recordings I own. If quad could have been offered back then in a more successful format than LP it may have succeeded. I look forward to future releases and hope they will also be on SACD. Where are the EMI quad recordings?

Comment by hiredfox - February 10, 2017 (6 of 9)

Dutton are new to this game of re-treads and it shows. Nowhere near the standard set by Pentatone in their RQR series, in stereo this one sounds muddy & congested. Maybe down to source material. Dutton seem to have ignored my request for recording data; sources, recording type and so on.

I am not unhappy to have this disc in our collection as it is good to have a small archive of Rubinstein's performances on SACD.

Comment by ubertrout - February 12, 2017 (7 of 9)

@hiredfox you got your copy already? I can't comment because I haven't, but Dutton Vocalion has been pretty emphatic that they're working with the original master tapes for the quad recordings, and even the original multitrack stems in a few places (the Stokowski Wagner excerpts and the Rosza disc). They did a blog post about the subject here: https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/dutton-epoch-quadraphonic-sacd-releases-january-2017/. I don't understand the skepticism.

Comment by hiredfox - February 14, 2017 (8 of 9)

Hi. Yes, I do have a copy from the Amazon's UK link - supplied by English Postbox and delivered the day after my order was placed.

For a variety of reasons we (incl. Mrs hiredfox!) have had no time for a more concentrated listening session and my earlier remarks reflected an initial impression.

Where audiophilia is concerned it helps tremendously to have everyone in the household singing from the same hymn-sheet!

Comment by William Hecht - March 11, 2017 (9 of 9)

As an adopted Philadelphian from about the time of these recordings to the present day this disc holds a lot of nostalgia value for me, but as John says in his review the sound isn't what one might have hoped. Nonetheless I found it much more acceptable after a significant volume reduction from my normal setting (say 5-6 clicks on the volume control) in which case the bass is far less boomy, the overall balance is improved, and the wrap around effect is diminished. I'm sure John has a point about the condition of the tapes, but a large part of the sonic deficiency has to be laid at the feet of the recording venues. The Scottish Rite Cathedral and especially the Academy of Music were simply not good recording venues (in fact the Academy, despite the feelings of older Philadelphians, is not really a very good concert hall either). I've always felt that a large part of the "Philadelphia Sound" was attributable to the phenomenal effort it took to project any bass energy into the hall. I found a comparable volume reduction had similar benefits on Dutton's Bach and Wagner with Leopold Stokowski, the inventor of the Philadelphia Sound, though that disc is with the LSO.