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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: 24 minutes 31 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 4 in G minor, Op 40
composer

View whole album
This recording is not available for download
Allegro vivace  [9'03]
Largo  [6'22]
Allegro vivace  [9'06]

Other recordings available for download
Yakov Zak (piano), Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Kyrill Kondrashin (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Composer’s block is a relatively recent phenomenon. Its roots – like so many in the history of music – may be traced to Beethoven. But so far as the extraordinary creative silences that afflicted Sibelius, Elgar and Rachmaninov are concerned, it would be difficult to find any parallels before 1918. It hardly takes a PhD in social history to see why that date should be significant. The Great War dealt a terrible blow to European cultural self-esteem, and the ethos of the Roaring Twenties, plus the triumph of new commercial means of dissemination, reinforced it. Now the kind of lyrical self-expression that had previously seemed self-evidently valuable suddenly became not just unfashionable but positively vulgar and repellent. Faced by the expectations of audiences tired of romantic effusiveness, many composers who had reached creative maturity around 1900 either had to redefine their aims or fall silent.

Rachmaninov had composed some forty major works before leaving Russia for ever after the November 1917 Revolution; but he managed a mere half dozen in the twenty-six years from then until his death (and not one of these was completed during his first nine years abroad). The dual culture-shock of exile from his beloved homeland and more general post-war trauma undoubtedly played a part in this hiatus. ‘I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien’, he wrote. ‘I cannot cast out the old way of writing, and I cannot acquire the new. I have made intense efforts to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.’

There were more mundane factors in addition. In America, cut off from the relatively privileged lifestyle he had so painstakingly achieved, Rachmaninov had to begin a new career as an international concert pianist in order to provide for his immediate family (and in due course to subsidize an increasing number of more distant needy relations and friends). The demands of a rapidly expanding repertoire, together with the rigours of travel and recording, squeezed out any spare time that might have been devoted to composition.

In 1926 he finally succeeded in taking a sabbatical year away from performance in order to complete his Fourth Piano Concerto. Ideas for this work had been taking shape since 1914, and he had even withheld from publication one of his 1911 Études-tableaux (for piano solo) probably because he had already formed the intention to rework its second half as the closing section of the concerto’s slow movement. Putting his ideas for the new concerto into shape proved to be fraught with difficulty, in part simply because Rachmaninov had to relearn the habit of composition, in part also because he was sufficiently influenced by the spirit of the times to have become suspicious of his own natural grandiloquence. (His concerns may be judged from the cuts he inflicted on his Third Concerto and on his Second Piano Sonata in its 1931 revision.) Hardly was the Fourth Concerto complete than he began trimming it. One-hundred-and-fourteen bars were shorn off in the summer of 1927, following the tepidly received first performances (given with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy), and a further seventy-eight bars disappeared in summer 1941, just before Rachmaninov recorded the work with the same artists.

The result of these vacillations is a work that seems ridden with doubt. On the one hand it has one of the most inspired opening gambits in the entire concerto repertoire, the piano entering on the crest of a wave; and the proportions of the first movement are subtly adjusted throughout, so that grand statements ignite suddenly, rather than having to go through the motions of elaborate rhetorical build-up. Yet the final bars of this movement are strangely throwaway, while the slow movement hovers indecisively between expansive statement and the modesty of an interlude. As for the finale, it constantly shies away from the Dance of Death character that seems to be its main thrust.

For these and other reasons the Fourth Concerto has been much maligned over the years. The inevitable, though not necessarily more enlightened, reaction is to ascribe all such criticism to prejudice or narrow-mindedness. A subtler judgment might be that the music’s insecurities and vacillations are precisely what give it its potential appeal to post-modern sensibilities. And there can be little doubt that Rachmaninov’s late masterpieces – the Paganini Rhapsody and the Symphonic Dances – would have been inconceivable without its example. The Concerto is dedicated to his friend Nicholas Medtner.

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  2CDs 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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