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Rachmaninov Piano Concerto # 2; Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini

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The Rachmaninov piano concertos rank among the favorites of many a music lover, and I'm no exception. I had thought previously that the Wild/Horenstein boxed set (distributed by Chandos) would be difficult to beat for both performance and excellent sound, but the more I've experimented the more I've become open-minded to alternatives.


Here is one that I'll place in my own pantheon of the best performances ever recorded, and I'll even submit that the sound quality rates a B to B-. I had this on my Amazon wish list for about 7 months before a reasonably priced copy came up for sale (I paid about $22 for mine with shipping). Like most other classic recordings that are now out of print, sellers are marking these way up past their original prices; if I had been watching for this one in the late eighties or early nineties, I could have bought it for $8.99 at the local CD shop. And, to be sure, I have a copy of this on Decca vinyl in their World of the Great Classics series. I don't remember much about how this one sounds on vinyl, but I am getting ahead of myself.


I first learned of this performance while listening to Jim Schweda's NPR program, The Record Shelf, almost 30 years ago — and even though I already had the record. If I recall correctly, Schweda provided a great, almost mesmerizing, account of Julius Katchen's short life (the soloist here) within the process of telling his listeners about his performances found here.




It would be foolish of me to try to remember what Schweda had said, so I'll just limit my own description to what I hear. And to begin with, Julius Katchen has, for me, a perfectly sympathetic understanding of what the composer must have intended. His playing ranges from bittersweet and reserved to adamant and intensely frenetic. Under Solti's direction, the LSO appears to have coupled with Katchen in a Spock-like mind meld. Their playing adds immensely to to the overall greatness of this performance of the concerto. Boult's conducting of the LPO in the Paganini Rhapsody is equally as captivating, although it is fair to say that Katchen's playing here is so magnificent that even Spike Jones couldn't have messed things up, even if he tried. It's impossible to get through this performance of the Rhapsody without getting a lump in your throat.


For those who place sound over performance in importance, you can rest easy here: you won't have to rush out to buy this. There's sufficient early-Decca harshness in the brass to rule this one out for you — even on the super lush sound of the MS-190/Rosinanté combination. Special mention needs to be made about the clarity and perfect size of the piano here — no mile-wide piano coming out of both speakers here. Although not larger than life, the balance between piano and orchestra is about what it should be, and offers some delicious plumbing of the depths of those lower keys. The micro-dynamics are startling indeed!


Also with regard to sound quality, note that there is an abundance of used copies of the earlier "Weekend Classics" release of these recordings. Avoid these like the plague. The sound here is muffled and indistinct


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To be honest I have only dabbled into classical music and most of the recordings I have fall into the category of Awesome Sound, but Less Than Awesome Content. One exception to this is BOLERO!-- orchestral fireworks, Eiji Oue / Minnesota Orchestra from Reference Recordings. This disc sounds absolutely wonderful and the musical content is fabulous as well. The other recording I have that sound great but have unenjoyable music don't get played. It's as simple as that.


I wish this disc was easier to get my hands on and less expensive, I would like to give it a shot. It sounds like you get what you pay for on this recording. Thanks for the warning about the "Weekend Classics" releases. I am always skeptical of them, but have settled for them once or twice.


Thanks for the great review/post on this piece! I just got back from a local record shop where I picked up the new Stanley Clarke CD The Toys of Men. I'm really liking it so far and I'll let everyone know my thoughts after I spend more time listening to it.


- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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  • 3 years later...

The performances of Rocky 2 and the Rhapsody by Katchen with Boult and Solti on this CD are my favorites for these works. My wife prefers Rubinstein/Reiner on RCA.


The "Classic Sound" reissue is available on Amazon for $ 20 at




If you have trouble using the link, you can find in in advanced search (classical) by specifying the performer as "Julius Katchen".


ArchivMusic will sell it to you for $ 14 at










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The easiest and most fun way to find out if you like "classical" music is to try some orchestral soundtrack recordings. :)


Just like the best way to get into Opera is to buy one or two on Bluray. I suggest Mozart's Magic Flute for that myself - try this one:




It has some spectacular stuff in it and is one of the best productions I have ever seen. It's in German, so be sure to turn on the subtitles. :)



Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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  • 1 month later...

I serendipitously borrowed a copy of the Angel/EMI record with Weissenberg and Von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2 as well as Frank's Symphonic Variations from my public library in 1980, 31 years ago. Wow, it blew me away!!! I heartily recommend this performance :)


If you haven't heard this work, the opening chords on the piano are as mesmerizing as they are ominous of the greater things to come. And the tender sweetness of the second movement is to die for.




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