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Rachmaninoff: Complete Operas, Cantatas & Fragments

Rachmaninoff: Complete Operas, Cantatas & Fragments

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Today in the West, Sergei Rachmaninoff is known mostly as a great pianist and composer of piano works. His piano concertos, especially the second, and his Paganini Variations are among the most popular works in their respective genres. Orchestral works, too, such as the Second Symphony, the symphonic poem Isle of the Dead, and the Symphonic Dances are still frequently heard in concerts and on recordings. Less well known is that Rachmaninoff also composed operas, songs and sacred vocal works.

Thanks in part to this recording, Rachmaninoff is no longer ignored as an opera composer.


Aleko Skupoy ritsa (The Miserly Knight), Op. 24 Francesca da Rimini, Op. 25 Songs (6), Op. 4 Songs (6), Op. 8 Songs (12), Op. 14 Songs (6), Op. 38  Russian Songs (3), Op. 41 Kolokola (The Bells), Op. 35 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 Piano Concertos 1-4


There are a few very old recordings—Rachmaninoff playing `Whiten my Rouged Cheeks’ (1926) and conducting a transcription of his Vocalise (1929); Chaliapin singing Aleko’s cavatina (1929)—but the bulk of the material is from the 1950s, with a few contributions from the '40s and '60s.

The operas are here, all from Bolshoi productions: two Alekos (1951, 1953), The Miserly Knight (1958), and Francesca da Rimini (1956). In addition there is an entire disc of fragments from the operas. We have lots of songs—complete opus numbers 4, 8, 14, 21, 26, 34, 38, but also dozens of individual songs...[several] were orchestrated, so we have a disc of songs with orchestra or instrumental ensemble. Choral music is included, but not the Liturgy or the Vespers; rather, we have The Bells (two performances, 1948 1962), his O Mother of God, Vigilantly Praying, written in 1893, and Spring for baritone, choir, and orchestra.

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is played by Viktor Merzhanov and the Symphonic Dances were dedicated to Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then to top it off we have the four piano concertos, played by Richter, Gilels, and Zak.

Only a few of these performances seem to have been available: Concertos 1 & 4 with Richter & Zak were on Appian 6005; the 1962 Bells with Kondrashin appeared on Urania; and perhaps a few more. Much, though, may be considered historical recordings from the Bolshoi Theatre with little-known (to us) Russian artists from the postwar period.

Three of the four opera recordings are appearing for the first time.

The biggest names [among featured singers] are Galina Vishnevskaya and Jussi Bjoerling, but they have only two songs each. You can find the operas and songs in more modern productions, but if you want a sense of Russian performance in the opera house in the '50s, these are invaluable. I got even greater pleasure from the concertos, since the pianists—Richter in particular—are wonderful and exciting.

-- American Record Guide

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    • UPC/Barcode: 881488210361
    • Item Number: PH21036