Music Reviews

Russian DSD Discoveries

Three of my favorite composers are Russian, and they were contemporaries. Sergei Rachmaninov, Sergei Prokofiev, and Igor Stravinsky all left Russia in their younger years, with only Prokofiev returning. Both Rachmaninov and Stravinsky resided in the USA for a long time and eventually became US citizens. They lived in Los Angeles at the same time, but didn’t care much for each other’s music.

Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was very successful as a conductor. Even before leaving Russia he was offered and he declined positions in Boston and elsewhere. He primarily made his living as a much sought-after concert pianist.

Stravinsky and Prokofiev were thought of as being quite modern, while Rachmaninov’s compositions were thought to be very romantic. But I hear far more that is forward looking in Rachmaninov’s First Symphony than in Prokofiev’s “Classical” First Symphony, or in Stravinsky’s rarely performed Symphony In E Flat Major –which he wrote while being an apprentice to Rimsky in 1907.

In addition, Rachmaninov’s final work, Symphonic Dances (a Fourth Symphony in all but name), seems less dated now than some of Stravinsky’s pieces from his Neo-Classic period. That of course is just my opinion. By the way, Rachmaninov quotes from the plainchant Dies Irae in almost all of his works, and it really stands out in the final “dance” of the Symphonic Dances.

Here’s Rachmaninov’s first Symphony done with great zeal by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra:

My favorite recording of the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 is this superlative performance by Ivan Fischer and the BFO:

Don’t forget Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony with Gergiev and the LSO:

Valery Gergiev also conducts the Symphonic Dances (Premiered 1941 in Philadelphia) and Stravinsky’s jazz influenced Symphony In Three Movements (premiered 1946 in New York):

And when you explore Rachmaninov, don’t forget the solo works for piano, the piano concertos, and (one of my absolute favorites) the wonderful tone poem, Isle of the Dead.

Dejan Lazic’s rendition of Rachminov’s Piano Concerto #2 with Kirill Petrenko, conducting is beautifully played and recorded. And the Moments Musicaux is worth the price of admission alone:

I’m sure I don’t need to say too much about Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). It’s said that he “…finally became Stravinsky with Petrushka, ” and his successes continued with The Firebird, and of course The Rite of Spring. All are well represented. His own stereo recording of The Rite is still considered among the very best. For modern recordings I think it’s difficult to find a better performed or better recorded one than this with Ivan Fischer and the BFO– also including a wonderful Firebird Suite:

Speaking of The Firebird, Rosanne Philippens (violin) and Julien Quentin (piano) are fantastic with a special arrangement of two movements from The Firebird in this set. As an exception of the theme from Russian composers, I highly recommend the music by Polish composer Szymanowski:

And don’t forget Gergiev’s recording of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements coupled with Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances—see above.

Of These three Russians, no one is more represented here than Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Symphonies, ballets, concertos, sonatas, and even film music! So much to explore! He had the misfortune to die on the same day as Josef Stalin, so the world tended not to notice. But Prokofiev is probably the most performed composer of 20th Century music.

Let’s start with the Symphonies– James Gaffigan and The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra are wonderful—and wonderfully recorded in these symphony recordings:

And nobody should be without Romeo and Juliet! Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic are beautifully captured in this excellent release:

I haven’t even touched on the piano or violin concertos or sonatas! But I would like to leave you with a very strong recommendation for a wonderful album by cellist Johannes Moser with pianist Andrei Korobeinikov. It includes Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, plus the adagio from “Cinderella” arranged by Prokofiev. Wonderful– All three of my favorite three Russians in one album!

Cover Photo by Bill Dodd

Written by

Bill Dodd

Bill is Senior Music Reviewer at NativeDSD. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area. He is an avid photographer too! Along with his early interest in broadcasting and high fidelity audio, he was exposed to classical music in small doses from age 5, was given piano lessons from age 9— Starting with Bach and including Gershwin. Successful morning personality in San Francisco at age 22. (true). Sang in choirs in high school and college. Although the broadcasting experience was all in popular music, his personal listening has been mostly classical his whole life—along with others including Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Joni Mitchell, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.


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