Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano/BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Malcolm Sargent/Philharmonia Orchestra/Hugo Rignold (Rachmaninov Op. 18)
Guild GHCD 2326, 73:32 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) remains one of the stellar keyboard talents developed by Theodor Leschetizky, who stressed both delicacy of touch and directness of the musical point. Moiseiwitsch cultivated a wide repute for his interpretations of the music of Rachmaninov, and the composer often referred to Moiseiwitsch as his favorite pianist. The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (8 September 1955) derives from a Proms Concert at Royal Albert Hall, and it elicits the sugary finesse that marked the Moiseiwitsch style: the soft landings; the lightly deft, pearly figuration; the impish, flexible approach to both ornaments and rhythm. Even the Dies Irae motif in the score takes on a lilt and swagger more appropriate to Chopin’s zal, as if death could dance the mazurka. Malcolm Sargent lights up the orchestral tissue with taut strings, harp, and triangle, while Moiseiwitsch turns the piano into a violinist’s whirlwind palette without effort. The middle variations–choreographed as Paganini’s love-scene–drips with erotic suggestiveness. The famed Variation 18, an inversion of Paganini’s A Minor original–flows with silken inevitability. The last set of variants steams with electric current, the sudden agogics whipping off the pages in exemplary, bravura fashion.
Moiseiwitsch championed the C Minor Concerto by Frederick Delius from 1915, having inscribed it commercially with Constant Lambert in 1946. That Moiseiwitsch played the one-movement version of the concerto with Sir Thomas Beecham quite often makes us lament the lack of any recorded document of these giants in collaboration. The live performance from 15 September 1955 generates considerable zeal and seriousness from the rather episodic work, whose sometimes, knotty, recalcitrant filigree Moiseiwitsch sails through. Still, the nineteen minute piece eludes easy classification of its ethos and darkly hued tone.
The C Minor Rachmaninov (13-14 August 1955) with Rignold for EMI is the second commercial inscription of the concerto Moiseiwitsch made, and the piano tone rings especially brilliant, with glittering trills and long-held, plastic caesuras. This same inscription graces the Philips collection for the Great Pianists of the 20th Century set. Mosieiwitsch and Rignold collaborate for sincere, romantic schwung, a genuine feeling for the composer’s alternately crisp and nostalgic sentiments. The last movement casts a crystalline film over the filigree well worth the price of admission, and initiates will sense that something unique lay in those Russian fingers.
— Gary Lemco