RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 – Serge Rachmaninov/ Philadelphia Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski – Pristine Audio

by | Feb 11, 2018 | Classical Reissue Reviews

An alternate “history” of an established masterwork emerges, seamlessly restored by Mark Obert-Thorn.

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 18 – Serge Rachmaninov/ Philadelphia Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski – Pristine Audio PASC 521, 66:39 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

While purchasing a compact disc that contains only item of music—that lasts approximately thirty-one minutes—may seem exorbitant, Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has created a musical and musicological document in this issue of the Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2, as originally recorded by RCA on 10 and 12 April 1929, as well as the alternate-take performance from the same date.

In his accompanying notes, Obert-Thorn informs us that the long-existing version so long available to record collectors represents the lesser-favored incarnation of his concerto. The concerto itself had to fit the 78 rpm format of c. 4-minute takes, so Rachmaninov produced three takes of a series of shellac sides and two takes for others. Between 1940 and 1942, when the original master shellacs had begun to wear down or had in fact been lost, RCA systematically replaced the takes until by the end of the 78 rpm era, all but one of ten sides were substitutes. The alternate version—that preferred by Rachmaninov—has my vote for its being more daring, riskier, and impetuous.  Obert-Thorn includes another take, one of the last movement’s measures 162-356, as a reference for the composer’s protean musicality, his compelling tendency not to repeat himself mechanically, even for the electrical reproduction process. While the occasionally finger-slip or missed orchestral cue might have motivated various decisions, the sheer speed, finesse, and seamless wizardry of collaboration compels our admiration. We may well assume that Rachmaninov, Stokowski, and the revered Philadelphia Orchestra had reached a level of musical comfort that permitted them freedoms within the musical bar that few others could realize.

It’s worth a rare listen.

—Gary Lemco

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