RACHMANINOV Piano Works / Ashkenazy 4786348

. . . [Ashkenazy's performances] would be hard to match among modern recordings for their stylishness and grace, unflashy virtuosity and innate understanding of what made Rachmaninov tick.

. . . this is essential repertoire featuring one of the finest pianists of the past half century . . . recorded in generally top-notch sound by those wizards at Decca . . . a decent booklet as well. In short, a quality package . . . a lovely, lyrical account of Rachmaninov's Op. 1 concerto. Haitink and the Concertgebouw are robust and big-boned, a strong contrast to the soloist's clean, unexaggerated pianism . . . every nuance of Ashkenazy's performance is well caught. The slow movement is especially fine, and it all ends in a last-minute sprint of breathtaking bravura from all concerned. The generosity of spirit that informs so much of what Ashkenazy does -- on both the platform and the podium -- is discernible throughout this set. It's certainly there in his good, solid performance of the fourth concerto, which has another poised and pellucid slow movement . . . The Philharmonia make an excellent backing band for the Paganini Rhapsody, whose endless invention and sparkle always catches me by surprise. Again Ashkenazy gives a nicely articulated and rhythmically astute performance . . . [CD 3]: the level of inspiration and execution is very high . . . Vivid, variegated playing and a terrific recording make this the stand-out performance here . . . [Prélude op. 3 no. 2] is given with thrilling weight and burnished tone, while the 10 pieces of Op. 23 show Ashkenazy at his most nuanced and engaging. He's one of those pianists who is thoughtful and meticulous yet he seldom sounds stiff or studied. There's no striving for effect here, just full-blooded expositions of what the composer intended. One has to marvel at No. 2 in B flat, which has seldom leapt off the page with such authority and style. Decca's effortlessly detailed and naturally balanced recording . . . makes this the very best disc in the box; indeed, it's one of the finest solo piano recordings you're likely to hear any time soon, whatever its provenance or vintage. This really is Desert Island fare, and this gripping account of Op. 32 will surely banish one's craving for an early rescue. It's muscle-flexing music, whose sheer breadth and confidence demands interpreters of similar skill and temperament. Needless to say Ashkenazy doesn't disappoint, even in the composer's more inward and melting moments, such as those of No. 5 in G. The "Corelli Variations" . . . merely confirm this pianist's enviable control of touch and dynamic; cool and crystal clear but never stilted or sterile, the piece unfolds with all the ease and engagement one expects of a consummate artist . . . if I were to have just one version of these oft-coruscating variations it would probably be this one . . . if you like bravura "and" brain Ashkenazy's Op. 39 is as good as it gets. The same goes for his Op. 33 . . . CD6 offers an all-conquering traversal of the Chopin Variations . . . Firm-toned, spacious and tonally sophisticated this is how to record a solo piano . . . [Piano Sonata no. 1]: there's weight and range aplenty . . . this is the kind of breath-bating pianism one associates with the concert hall, where all cares dissolve and only the music matters. Simply marvellous . . . CD7 contains the "Russian Rhapsody", in which Ashkenazy and Previn rekindle the magic of their other collaborations . . . a delightful set of the "Six Moments musicaux" and the very early "Morceaux de Fantaisies". Ashkenazy brings a jewelled loveliness in the former . . . The secret of such things is to capture the style and spirit of the works in question. That's the case here; the Bach is quick on its feet, the Schubert has admirable fluidity, Mendelssohn's imperishable "Scherzo" is recreated with all necessary charm and fairy-like fibrillations, and the Bizet has a warm, sunny disposition. As expected Ashkenazy brings out all these elements with disarming ease . . . Fifty years of great music-making, all in one box; a bargain at any price.

Formidably in command of even the most daunting technical challenge and remembering his Russian roots throughout, Ashkenazy can be more intimidating than affectionate in Op 39 . . . [Ashkenazy's recording] is of a daunting authority, positively commanding your attention at every point . . . his Op 39 etudes are of an intimidating strength and proficiency. He packs a formidable punch in No 1 . . . his trenchancy emphasised by Decca's glittering or clangorous (according to taste) sound . . . He rises to great heights of declamation in No 2 . . . you can only wonder at his visceral attack in No 5 and his dazzling "scherzando" finish to No 8. Ashkenazy, despite his worldwide, cosmopolitan career, remains gloriously true to the Russian idiom.

Ein Muss für jeden Sammler . . . eine Pionierarbeit . . . Vladimir Ashkenazy gelingt es, gerade in der zyklischen Darstellung der "Préludes", "Moments musicaux", "Morceaux de fantaisie" und "Etudes-tableaux" den klassischen, seriösen Zuschnitt eines Meisters hervorzuheben, der, nur weil er so schön klingt, gemeinhin unterschätzt wird . . . eine überragende, völlig konkurrenzlose Neubewertung Rachmaninoffs . . . Überragend und begeisternd!