Doremi’s Live, Grotty-Sounding Rudolf Serkin

Review by: Jed Distler

061297816125

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 3

Interpretive differences between Rudolf Serkin’s familiar 1968 studio recording of the Brahms First piano concerto with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra and this April 18th concert performance from the same year are marginal at best. Not that it matters, because the skewed balances and patches of wow and flutter in Doremi’s grotty sounding source tape are hard to endure.

The Serkin/Bernstein/New York Philharmonic chemistry proves slightly more spontaneous and volatile in a live January 1966 performance of the Second concerto, compared to the steadier, leaner Serkin/Szell/Cleveland studio recording from the same year. The performers’ wide dynamic range and powerful projection somewhat emerge through strident sonics that distort in loud moments. However, the performance adds nothing to what we already know from Serkin’s four studio versions.

Excerpts from Serkin’s 1974 Massey Hall recital fill out each disc. The four Brahms Op. 119 piano pieces receive more inflected and flexible readings in comparison to the pianist’s studio recordings. They’re also pitched slightly sharp, whereas Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy is transferred an entire half-step sharp. Serkin starts sluggishly, yet finds his form as the second-movement variations unfold. The third and fourth movements typify Serkin’s rhythmic drive and pounding momentum; he really lets go in the coda, in the manner of a marathon runner who can’t wait to broach the finish line.

It’s a pity that Doremi did not access a superior and properly pitched source for the solo selections, especially since the Wanderer Fantasy is otherwise unrepresented in Serkin’s discography (the pianist did record the Schubert for Columbia Masterworks in 1967, but withheld approval for its release). I hope that Doremi will exercise more care and consideration over production values and repertoire choices in future live Serkin volumes.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Rudolf Serkin Live, Vol. 1
Reference Recording: Brahms Concertos: Freire/Chailly (Decca); Serkin/Szell (Sony); Gilels/Jochum (DG), Schubert Wanderer Fantasy: Richter (Warner)

  • BRAHMS, JOHANNES:
    Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major Op. 83; Klavierstücke Op. 119
  • SCHUBERT, FRANZ:
    Wanderer Fantasy D. 760
  • Rudolf Serkin (piano)
  • Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell; New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein


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