ALKAN: Concerto for solo Piano. Troisième recueil de chants, Op. 65.
Marc-André Hamlin, pianist
HYPERION CDA 67569 TT: 67:39

SHOSTAKOVICH: Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet and strings, Op. 35.Concertino for Two Pianos in A minor, Op. 94. Quintet in G minor, Op. 57.
Martha Argerich, pianist; Renaud Capuçon, Alissa Margulis, violins; Lida Chen, viola; Mischa Maiska, cello
EMI CLASSICS 054504 TT: 66:21

DELIUS: Piano Concerto in C minor. RACHMANINOFF: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.
Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianist; BBC Symphony Orch/Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. (Delius/Rhapsody); Philharmonia Orch/Hugo Rignold, cond. (Concerto)
GUILD GHCD 2326 (M) TT: 73:32

JACQUELINE DU PRÉ - The Complete EMI Recordings
Music of Elgar, Dvorak, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Monn, Haydn, Chopin, Franck, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Couperin, Strauss, Lalo, Brahms, Boccherini, Falla, Tchaikovsky, and others
EMI CLASSICS 5 04167 (B) (17 disks)

JÁNOS STARKER - Legendary Period LPs - Vol. I
BOCCHERINI: Cello Concerto in B flat. MOZART: Cello Concerto in E flat, K. 447. BARTOK: Rhapsody for Cello No. 1. WIENER: Hungarian Wedding Dance. KODALY: Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, Op. 8. Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7. Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4
EMG CLASSICS 942311021` (2 disks) (F) TT: 53:45 & 71:45

Hearing this new recording of Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano, Op. 39 is like watching lightning strike on command. Marc-André Hamelin's 1993 Music & Arts recording of this massive work (actually movements 8-10 of the composer's Twelve Etudes, Op. 39) set the standard for recordings of this music, and now Hamlin has even bettered his previous effort. This is a magnificent performance of astonishing detail, a fabulous display of pianistic artistry. Hyperion's new release has an added attraction: the first complete recording of the composer's Troisième recueil de chants, Op. 65, a set of 6 short pieces apparently inspired by Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, delectable miniatures. For some listeners, the piano sound on these new recordings, made in February and December 2006) might seem overly resonant, but the ear quickly adjusts. A superb release!

Here's another extraordinary recording from Martha Argerich's music festival in Lugano, the source of many other superb disks. Here again she is surrounded by friends and associates resulting in spectacular, incisive performances of Shostakovich's first concerto (with Sergei Nakariakov's perfect trumpet), the rather comic Concertino (with Lilya Zilberstein), and the Stalin Prize- winning1940 Quartet, one of the composer's major works. In this, Argerich is joined by violinists Renaud Capuçon and Alissa Margulls, violist Lida Chen, and cellist Mischa Maisky. Perfection throughout, and superb stereo sound.

What a pleasure it is to hear live performances by legendary pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963). The Russian pianist had a great fondness for British music and recorded the Delius piano concerto in 1946 with the then-new Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Constant Lambert (available on Testament as well as a Naxos import). Moiseiwitsch had given three performances in London with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting in 1915; this broadcast performance is from the BBC Proms Royal Albert Hall concert September 13, 1955. This is a magnificent performance of a work that can in lesser hands be a rambling affair, slightly brisker than his earlier recording. Moiseiwitsch made two commercial recordings of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini: December 1938 with Basil Cameron and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (available as a Naxos import), and with the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Hugo Rignold (once issued on EMI (63788). This EMI disk also included the pianist's commercial recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Hugo Rignold and the Philharmonia made in August 1955 (Moiseiwitsch had also recorded this concerto in 1937 with Walter Goehr and the Liverpool Philharmonic). This 1955 version is a welcome addition to Guild's issue. Are there other Moiseiwitsch live recordings to be unearthed? Let us hope, and bemoan the fact that there are no live recordings of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who never would permit broadcasts of any of his performances.

EMI is to be saluted for their 17-disk set of Jacqueline Du Pré's complete recordings for the label, and at super-budget price (less than $4 per CD). Don't expect any program notes other than a complete list of tracks, timings and recording dates/venues. The booklet suggests you insert CD 17 into your computer to join the EMI Classics Club "and build connections with the world's great artists." I did this and nothing happened. Perhaps somewhere on the EMI Classics site there are program notes; if so, I couldn't find them. Still, this is a great bargain for collectors if you don't already own most of these.

Another remarkable cellist was Janos Starker (born July 5, 1924) who was principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner, and concertized throughout the world. He was recognized as one of the truly great cellists and although he retired from giving concerts a few years ago, he continues to teach and give master classes. Here is a 2-CD set, Volume I of a projected series, offering some of Starker's "legendary" Period LPs (he recorded 15 records for the label). Hearing them it is easy to understand why their release catapulted the young cellist to international recognition. Some of the LP notes are included in the accompanying booklet, and we also find that Starker was personally very involved in the technical side of the recordings. Peter Bartók (son of Bela) was the engineer, and provides a very close-up sonic picture of the solo cello including fingerboard and bow noises as well as Starker's breathing. Surprisingly, no specific recording dates are provided, just "in New York in the early 1950's." This set is released on EMG Classics, a division of Essential Media Group, but I haven't been able to discover anything about this company or their distribution process—so it may be difficult to find this set.

R.E.B. (January 2008)