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Recordings of the Month


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Rachmaninov_ Babayan


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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1890-1 rev. 1917) [29.54]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske for piano and orchestra (1885-6, rev. 1890) [22.21]
Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Variations on a Nursery Song (1913) [25.57]
Valerie Tryon (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jac Van Steen
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 16-17 July 2013
SOMM SOMMCD253 [78.17]

The first thing to say is that I was amazed to discover that Valerie Tryon will be celebrating her 80th birthday in the week in which this review is being written. Ms Tryon was born in Portsmouth, on England’s South Coast on 5 September 1934. Readers might be interested in seeing the video of Melanie Spanswick interviewing Ms Tryon when she was in the UK to record this album as a follow-up to her first SOMM anthology. In the interview, and by the way the attractive Ms Tryon looks so young, she is relaxed and good-humoured; she explains her technique and I was impressed with her vital yet subtle and penetrating performances of all three works. What a psychological shot in the arm for us more mature folk.

Rachmaninov’s 1917 revisions to his First Piano Concerto were made some eight years after he composed his Third Piano Concerto and three years after he started work on his Fourth (1914-26 rev. 1941). His mature yet still very accessible style shows in this lovely work – why it has not achieved the great popularity of the Second and even the Third Concertos is, to me, quite inexplicable. Ms Tryon’s reading is hearty and heart-felt. Van Steen’s accompaniment is a little too close and a tad over-bright.

Richard Strauss composed his six concertos in two groups of three; one at the beginning and the other at the end of his life when his operatic works were more difficult to stage after allied bombing had destroyed so many German opera houses. Burleske belonged to the first group and Strauss began its composition in the last year of Liszt’s life which is significant because this is no formal concerto but more rhapsodic in the pattern of a Liszt symphonic poem. Although Strauss never admitted to there being a programme behind this music, as Robert Matthew-Walker suggests, it does not take much imagination — certainly from the descriptive title — that a drama – perhaps something like Till Eulenspiegel - might have been a stimulus. There is wit and parody in abundance and romance and drama. Both soloist and orchestra revel in this wry, hedonistic ride.

There is something of this mood in one or two of the clever, popular Dohnányi Variations that complete this album. What a dazzling, tuneful work this is. That pompous overwhelming orchestral peroration that is the Introduzione Maestoso leads to the oh-so-innocent declaration of the Twinkle, Twinkle theme. All the Variations are marvellous especially: the lovely Brahmsian string Variation 3, the quaint music-box like Variation 5, the glittering waltz that is Variation 7 and that majestic Passacaglia Variation 10.

As enjoyable as this CD is I have to favour the 1970 Decca recording of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto by Ashkenazy with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn. This is now available with the other three Rachmaninov piano concertos by the same artists on a Decca 2CD. As for the Dohnányi Variations, a good and adventurous alternative is the Chandos (CHA N9733) recording devoted to music by this composer. It includes the Variations played with great wit and panache by Howard Shelley and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Matthias Bamert.

A most enjoyable album.

Ian Lace

Masterwork Index: Rachmaninov piano concerto 1