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Hyperion Records

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Photo of Sergei Rachmaninov.
Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library
Track(s) taken from CDA67501/2
Recording details: May 2004
Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, USA
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Jeff Mee
Release date: October 2004
Total duration: 25 minutes 53 seconds

'Carefully considered interpretations despatched with consummate musicianship and virtuosity, and using as their inspiration Rachmaninov's own recordings' (The Mail on Sunday)

'Hough. Litton. Rachmaninov concertos. Hyperion. Already a mouth-watering prospect, is it not? So, like the old Fry's Five Boys chocolate advert, does Anticipation match Realisation in these five much recorded confections? The answer is 'yes' on almost every level' (Gramophone)

'Overall, these live concert recordings stand out in a field jam-packed with first-rate Rachmaninov concerto cycles' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is fin-de-siècle musical romance moulded with perception, and Hough himself is on magnificent form … Hough's set takes the palm as the pre-eminent digital edition of the Rachmaninov piano concertos' (The Independent)

'The freshness and joy in rediscovering well-worn masterpieces are everywhere in evidence in Hough's playing … If you think you have heard these pieces once too often, this is the recording to help you rediscover their intimacies and their emotional sweep' (The Daily Telegraph)

'What Hough has come up with is much fleeter and leaner than the overripe romantic effects usually lavished on these concertos … he keeps the music on the move, carefully regulating its ebb and flow, so that Rachmaninov’s melodies float above the harmonic feints and sidesteps … As fine as anything Hough has done on disc to date' (The Guardian)

'Hough shares with Rachmaninov a precision, a rhythmic energy, a quite beautiful singing tone and—perhaps most important in these dense textures—an unerring clarity … A superb achievement, and that's all that needs to be said' (International Record Review)

'Hough's melodic subtlety is well matched by conductor Andrew Litton, and even Rachmaninophobes will be won over by their Paganini Rhapsody' (The Independent on Sunday)

'Stephen Hough is a pianist of immense finesse, who is incapable of playing a vulgar or exaggerated note. And he has a steely technique, secure enough to carry him through four live recordings—which these are—with barely a slip … this is a wonderful release … Hough and Litton are more than scholars: they make living, flaming music from the ebbing and flowing speeds, the soloist's improvisatory airs, or the strings' willingness to revive the old portamento slide. The waves of energy at the finale's end are very exciting: no wonder the Dallas audience break out in cheers' (The Times)

'These are exhilarating performances, freshly conceived and texturally pristine … With such committed advocacy and technical bravura, Hough's interpretations demand to be heard' (The Sunday Times)

'These are outstanding performances. The recordings capture the excitement of the live concerts, including applause at the end of the concertos but there's very little audience noise and the sound is thrilling and immediate. This is a release that's bound to win all the awards' (Classic FM Magazine)

'An electrifying double-disc set' (The Scotsman)

'These rank among the most illuminating—and most compelling—performances in the catalog. Whether you're a Rachmaninov addict looking for fresh perspectives on the music or a neophyte looking for the cycle in up-to-date sound, Hough and Litton can be recommended without hesitation' (Fanfare, USA)

'An exciting new Rachmaninov set that's definitely not to be missed' (HMV Choice)

'Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton cut a swathe through the decades-long undergrowth of bad tradition, revealing leaner, more potent works in the process … A terrific achievement' (The Evening Standard)

'The spark of these live performances has survived inevitable patching sessions to place Stephen Hough's complete account of Rachmaninov's works for piano and orchestra into the top flight' (Music Week)

'This is the best set of Rachmaninov Piano Concertos ever recorded. You have no idea how hard I worked not to come to this conclusion, knowing full well just how skeptically such a claim is likely to be received. I compared Stephen Hough to multiple Ashkenazy renditions, to Earl Wild, to Zoltan Kocsis, to Argerich, Rubinstein, Richter, Rodriguez, and Horowitz. I ploughed through several obscure Russian recordings, two cycles on Naxos, and a slew of EMIs. I re-auditioned Pletnev and sampled two separate remasterings of Rachmaninov's own performances. I listened with scores, then waited a few days, and then tried again without them. I played these discs to colleagues, to friends, and to people whose musical judgment I trust as much if not more than my own. But the conclusion was inescapable: there never has been a complete cycle at this level of consistent excellence. There's no doubt about it' (ClassicsToday.com)

Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor, Op 1
composer
6 July 1891

View whole album
This recording is not available for download
Vivace  [12'27]
Andante  [5'39]
Allegro vivace  [7'47]

Other recordings available for download
Sviatoslav Richter (piano), USSR RTV Large Symphony Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Rachmaninov was not quite eighteen when he began work on his First Piano Concerto. At the time he still had a year of Conservatoire study ahead of him, during which his tasks would be to compose his first opera and his first symphony, these being Arensky’s conditions for accelerated graduation. The symphony would in fact be delayed several years, but Tchaikovsky’s support for the resulting opera (Aleko) led to publishing agreements and a rapid opening-up of professional opportunities.

The first documented mention of the Concerto seems to be on 26 March 1891, in a letter to another of his numerous cousins, and its completion followed on 6 July, after a month of near-solitude at Ivanovka. Rachmaninov compensated for his ongoing lassitude, or so he claimed, by composing the second and third movements in a two-and-a-half day burst, working from five o’clock in the morning until eight in the evening. The score carried a dedication to Ziloti.

Rachmaninov performed the first movement at a student concert on 17 March 1892, in the Small Room of the Hall of Nobility. On that occasion the student orchestra was conducted by Vasily Safonov – by then Director of the Conservatoire – who was used to making corrections and cuts in his students’ work. This time, however, Safonov found himself bowing to the will of the fledgling composer. It is not entirely clear when, or even if, Rachmaninov played the work in its entirety (though others certainly did so) before he shelved it for revision. It was to be September 1917 before he finally got round to that task. Rachmaninov set the finishing date to the revised score on 10 November, just weeks after the storming of the Winter Palace and the enthronement of the Bolshevik regime, whose baleful effects he would flee six weeks later (though he had been laying plans even before the October Revolution), never to return to Russia. He first performed the new work on 29 January 1919 in New York with the Russian Symphony Society Orchestra, conducted by Modest Altschuler.

Rachmaninov was an inveterate rewriter. But he took the red pen to his First Piano Concerto more radically than to any other of his works (the case of the Fourth Concerto runs it close). The central tutti of the first movement and the first half of the cadenza were newly composed, and the finale was just as extensively recast. Among the excised material was much that openly declared a debt to Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

That model can still be detected behind the opening orchestral fanfare and pianistic flourishes. This is an amplified version of Grieg’s straightforward tonics and dominants, Nordic candour traded in for Slavonic melodrama. The orchestra then launches into one of Rachmaninov’s signature swooning lyrical themes, immediately picked up by the piano. Still shadowing the Grieg Concerto, the piano continues with darting figurations, before giving way to another orchestral song-theme. The largely sequentially constructed development section with rhapsodic breaks, the piano-led reprise, and the hypertrophic cadenza all fall into the pattern established by Grieg. But the devil is in the detail, and especially in its revised version this movement asserts its individuality by means of its ecstatic waywardness.

One of Grieg’s closing slow movement ideas supplies Rachmaninov with the opening of his comparatively modest Andante. This is marked by the piano’s improvisatory dreaminess, the quintessence of Romantic rhapsody: healing, as it were, all past longings and allowing the hero of the Concerto – the music’s personality, mediated by the soloist, with which we are invited to identify – to shake off the fetters of the past. Rachmaninov’s instinct for decorative passagework and for inspired harmonic deflections and balancing returns shines through. Now only the final cadences remind us of the music’s Griegian paternity.

Concerto finales are by tradition brilliant, physically exhilarating affairs, which is one reason why the symphonic scherzo is usually dispensable. This finale is no different. But perhaps compensating for the fact that the opening ideas are flashy and rather empty, it is the lyrical second subject that brings the movement into focus. Once again it is Rachmaninov’s genius for variation and renewal that keeps the structure alive, rather than any deeper-lying compositional strategies. And by 1917, when he was putting the Concerto into its definitive shape, he was unrivalled in his ability to ratchet up audience excitement over the last pages.

from notes by David Fanning © 2004


Other albums featuring this work
'Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos' (APR6005)
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 APR6005  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Rachmaninov: The Piano Concertos' (SACDA67501/2)
Rachmaninov: The Piano Concertos
This album is not yet available for download SACDA67501/2  2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted  

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