RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C – Van Cliburn, piano/Symphony of the Air/Kiril Kondrashin (Rachmaninoff); Chicago Symphony/Walter Hendl (Prokofiev) – RCA Red Seal

by | Sep 14, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano
Concerto No. 3 in C – Van Cliburn, piano/Symphony of the Air/Kiril
Kondrashin (Rachmaninoff); Chicago Symphony/Walter Hendl (Prokofiev) –
RCA Red Seal 3-channel SACD 82876-67894-2, 73:15 ****:

More Living Stereo-period classics from RCA/BMG in their original
three-channel form.  If you have a similar or identical center
channel to your left and right front speakers, you will definitely
experience the improvement in fidelity, soundstaging, depth and
presence.  This is especially true of piano and violin concerto
recordings. I wouldn’t mind BMG putting an optional derived-surround
signal on tracks 4 & 5 or alternately I wish my Sunfire preamp
allowed deriving a Pro Logic II surround signal from the front L &
R channels to feed the surrounds. But what we hear on the three front
channels is basically what the RCA engineers and producers heard off
their original 30 ips tapes before they mixed the three channels down
to two for LP release. The piano, already spotlighted sonically on most
recordings, has an even more solid sonic image than usual. The details
in the work’s many difficult passages and Cliburn’s ease of execution
of them now stand out in bold relief – though of course not like one
would ever hear if one were actually in Carnegie Hall at the concert.

The Rachmaninoff Third Concerto was taped live in Carnegie Hall just
two days after Van Cliburn’s triumphant return from winning the
Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 1958, and with a top Russian
conductor leading the former NBC Symphony.  Cliburn’s version is
up against an overwhelming group of great recordings of the work: Just
on SACD alone the Byron Janis/Dorati version we have reviewed has even
more impact and excitement and is also in three channels. On CD we have
Yefim Bronfman/Salonen on Sony, Martha Argerich on Philips, and for
older mono classics don’t forget Horowitz’ effort or the original set
of all four concertos played by the composer  – both on RCA. (Any
of these will serve to erase the bad taste in your mind from hearing
David Helfgott’s recording which was heavily promoted following the
movie Shine!)

The Prokofiev concerto was recorded two years later in Chicago’s
Orchestra Hall. The recording is a little better than the Rachmaninoff
and the performance sounds a bit more thought out and fully realized.
The lovely  Theme and Variations of the middle movement is one of
Prokofiev’s most lyrical and charming slow movements. Hendl was
associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony under Reiner, and he had
been one of the judges at the Tchaikovsky competition. Again, plenty of
competition in this concerto from Ashkenazy/Previn on Decca,
Pletnev/Rostropovich on DGG, Argerich/Abbado on DGG, and don’t forget
the composer himself on a bargain Naxos. But nobody else is doing it in
three channel SACD and with the Chicago Symphony; so there.

– John Sunier

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