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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ready to rumble?, February 21, 2010
This review is from: Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes, Op. 23 Nos. 1-10, Op. 32 Nos. 1 - 13, Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3 No. 2 (Audio CD)
It is always good to see a new addition to the catalogue when it comes to the complete preludes of Rachmaninov. At present I know of only about 10 versions released on CD, and some of the composer's greatest interpreters - such as Sviatoslav Richter and Earl Wild - never got around to recording all 24. After a characteristically beautiful recording by Dame Moura Lympany and the efforts of Peter Katin and Howard Shelley (both very decent performances, sans plus), Steven Osborne seems the perfect choice for a further anglophone to have a go at it, and I must say I was not for a moment disappointed.

Osborne's playing is less crystalline than that of some pianists of his generation - and Rachmaninov himself, if one cares to lend an ear to his outstanding music roll recordings released some 10 years ago on Telarc - but when it comes to catching the mood of longing (for mother Russia and many other things) that is at the center of Rachmaninov and the worldly elegance always present beneath the occasional ferocity, Osborne succeeds like very few I have encountered over the years. I have heard others manage a bit more desperation in the chilling B minor prelude (let Demidenko take you there!) and a slightly more electric tingle in the famous G sharp minor do., but overall Osborne's view is remarkably consistent and it steers him clear of the occasional paroxysms of bad taste so often found in most other performances - especially in the C sharp minor and G minor preludes. It also leaves him free to make the 24th prelude in G flat major the crowning achievement it should be, and Osborne's marvellous rendering of this piece is in itself worth the price of the disc. In my music collection only the live recording (and rare as diamonds THEY are!) made by Peter Donohoe matches the level of involvement I find on this disc, and though Osborne is commendable in every respect, Donohoe must - to me, at least - remain majestically alone at the top of the list due to a singularly astute management of the details of this extraordinary music. Only one snag: his version is very difficult to come by (e.g. not for sale on Amazon.com).

Why only four stars then, you might ask. Well, Hyperion always had a tendency to go heavy on the sound (lots of bass, little treble), and in some of their otherwise fine recordings this is bordering on the annoying. On this disc this is not as prominent as it sometimes is, but as compensation they have "expertly" managed a deep rumble (<160 Hz) that leaves me with the somewhat nostalgic - but not at all pleasant - feeling of being in the London Underground. Unless they made the recording there (and according to the booklet they didn't!) this has to warrant a little gentle kick up the backside: please hire some recording engineers able to register less than 300 and more than 2500 Hz and clean up your game!. Sorry Steven Osborne, not your fault! Keep up the good work.
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