Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 2 / Katchen / Solti – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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Folks, what we are offering here is THE SLEEPER Hot Stamper pressing of all time. Side one earned an amazingly good grade of A++ with side two every bit as good. The buyer of this album is going to be SHOCKED when he sees what pressing it is. 

For those of you who cherish pressings for their best sound and performances — as opposed to the typical audiophile collector who prefers the “right” original labels on his records, of course produced only in the “right” countries — this is the record for you.

Hold it up for your (right-thinking or otherwise) audiophile friends to witness before you put it on your table and BLOW THEIR MINDS.

How did this kind of sound get produced so cheaply, so late in the game? From what tape, by what engineer? It is a mystery to me, one that is very unlikely to be explained. 

Side One

A++ Super Hot Stamper sound — rich strings, clear horns, a piano that is full-bodied and natural, with a solid low end (the kind you rarely hear on record but is always so strikingly obvious in the presence of the real instrument).

A bit of compression holds it back from A+++. What a record!

Side Two

A++, not quite as rich as side one but lively, transparent, present, with zero smear (always a problem with piano recordings — you want to hear those hammers striking the strings clearly). So good!

Enjoy the Music Review

We take the measure of this popular concerto from the outset. Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within? Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti – and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.

This recording, along with Rubinstein’s on RCA Living Stereo, is quite properly among the most critically acclaimed. Rubinstein may have the last word in poetry, but not necessarily in majesty – except in the finale, which Solti (we naturally blame him, don’t we?) rushes a bit. One should own both recordings and perhaps others as well. After all, we can’t have too many Rach Seconds. (I’ve always been fond of the performance by Eugene Istomin and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Ormandy on Columbia mono.)

The London here, of course, is a Decca reissue as is the one that appears on Speakers Corner. On the Treasury LP, we are treated to a bonus in the Balakirev, a sizeable piece of razzle-dazzle that Katchen tosses off neatly. The presence of Islamey doesn’t appear to restrict the overall excellence of the sonics, since there is generally room for an “encore” if the first and second movements are placed on the first side. As reissues go, this one ranks with the best.

Leonard Norwitz