Found! Secret Rachmaninov recording of Symphonic Dances

Found! Secret Rachmaninov recording of Symphonic Dances


norman lebrecht

August 13, 2018

From Marston Records:

At a private gathering with conductor Eugene Ormandy in 1940, Rachmaninoff demonstrated just how he wanted his new orchestral work Symphonic Dances to be performed, playing a single-piano reduction of the score for a single piano while singing and given spoken commentary to Ormandy, to whom the work was dedicated.

Marston Records will be releasing a tremendously important historic CD sets on Tuesday, September 4, 2018.

The recently discovered recording of Rachmaninoff at the keyboard is presented twice in this set: first edited to conform to the score, and again just as the occasion unfolded, with Rachmaninoff jumping from place to place as he demonstrates, comments, and sings. The playing throughout is absolutely phenomenal – some of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, that exists of Rachmaninoff on record.


  • Caravaggio says:

    Exciting stuff

  • Jan says:

    Great news!

  • Robert Roy says:

    Just bought one! A bit pricey at $54 + $24 p&p but, apparently, Marsden only do a print run of a 1,000. Anyway, fascinating stuff.

    • Malcolm Kottler says:

      For those who might have been deterred from ordering due to the shipping cost, Marston Records has issued a correction, announcing lower shipping costs than originally announced. They are refunding the overcharge for shipping to those who have already ordered

      Here is an excerpt from their email today:

      “Please note that in the process of fulfilling orders we discovered an error in the calculated weight of the forthcoming set that resulted in elevated charges for any overseas customer who ordered one copy. The shipping charges for domestic orders and any orders for 2 or more CD sets were not affected. We apologize for the error and hope to make it right by refunding the difference to all overseas single orders that were received prior to the mistake being corrected around August 21st. Canadian customers who ordered one copy of Rachmaninoff and charged $17.50 for postage will receive a refund of $6.50, and all other overseas customers who ordered one copy and were charged $25 for postage will receive a refund of $10. The refunds will be processed by the end of the week, so no need to contact us regarding this matter. Again, we apologize for the mistake.”

  • DB says:

    And to think he was to record it with Horowitz, only for the producing label to abandon the project because they didn’t think it commercially viable…

  • Herbert Pauls says:

    Now this is really something!

  • Norman Krieger says:

    Finally !!!! What a gift!! Now if someone can unearth a film of Rachmaninoff playing the piano??!!!!!!???

  • Simon Evnine says:

    It’s a great shame that SR never recorded any concertos other than his own. Contemporaries raved about his Tchaikovsky and Beethoven #1

    • Robert Roy says:

      Although lovers of Elgar’s music are extremely grateful for the wonderful recordings he made of his own music it would have been terrific to have discs of him conducting other composers music. He frequently conducted the LSO in works by the greats.

  • Adam Stern says:

    I’ll be ordering mine shortly! The preview is terrific — and what a pleasure to hear Rachmaninoff playing the first movement (which he marked “Non allegro” — emphasis on “Non”) at a deliberate pace, rather than the sprinting clip at which some conductors and two-piano teams take it.

  • Roberto Tibiriçá says:

    WOWOWO!!! Fantastic!!!

  • anon says:

    Interesting to see how scholars will authenticate this.

    • Rob McAlear says:

      Ask the people responsible for the recording, experts and scholars all when it comes to historic recordings: Gregor Benko, Francis Crociata, Scott Kessler, Ward Marston, Ray Edwards, Jay Reise, Richard Taruskin and Ira Levin. I can think of no more esteemed a collection of individuals to vouch for the veracity of this astonishing discovery.

    • Mark Ainley says:

      As Mr McAlear states, it is a very distinguished team of people who have worked on this project. And as the notes on the Marston website (linked in the text below the video) explains, the records were labeled and dated in the Eugene Ormandy Collection.

    • Nelson says:

      You mean the scholars who HAVE already collaborated on this project? Read the notes that are accessible on the Marston website. Just use your ears….who else would it be?

  • Rob says:

    As always, there is so much colour in his playing.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    If Louis Lochner’s “authorized” biography of Fritz Kreisler is to be believed (and there are parts which probably should not be believed), Kreisler and Rachmaninov had agreed between them that they would not permit “live” broadcasts of their playing, including when they played with orchestras. If they appeared as soloists with an orchestra that routinely did broadcasts a recording of theirs would be played instead — obviously, not always of whatever piece they were actually performing. Only Rachmaninov’s death made Kreisler feel free from this pledge so we do have a few, often rather sad, air-checks of his playing late in life with the Bell Telephone Hour orchestra. His deafness had taken a toll.

    Lochner’s book says that Kreisler and his wife were visiting someone’s home and the radio announced the beginning of a Toscanini concert, presumably with the NY Philharmonic. “Here is Toscanini on the air!” Kreisler called out, at which time someone, perhaps his wife, promptly walked over and turned the radio off so that they could play cards. Kreisler was shocked. That according to Lochner was the origin of Kreisler’s negative opinion of live broadcasts, one that his old friend Rachmaninov evidently shared. If true, it is the reason we have no Rachmaninov broadcasts. We are much the poorer for that pledge.

    As to the rumor mentioned above that Victor could not be interested in a Rachmaninov/Horowitz recording of the “official” Symphonic Dances version for two pianos, that is at least consistent with the known fact that Rachmaninov begged Victor to record the music he programmed for his final recital tour and they had no interest. It is to weep ….

    • Robert Roy says:

      Alas, Mr Nelson, the world is full of these ‘might have beens’. My personal loss includes the fact that there’s no recording of David Oistrakh playing the Elgar violin concerto although I do live in hope. I also wish Ida Haendel had been recorded more in her prime.

    • Francis Crociata says:

      Three issues here:
      The Lochner story about the Rachmaninoff-Kreisler “’til-death” broadcasting pact is true as far as it goes, but is one of several instances where Rachmaninoff and, to a lesser extant Kreisler, framed an aesthetic judgement for what was actually a long-range marketing strategy on the part of their manager, Charles Foley. If Foley had seen it to be to their advantage to broadcast, they would have broadcast. Mrs. Rachmaninoff famously said her husband and Kreisler regarded every word out of Foley’s mouth to be pure gold. In another context a colleague and I will present documentation about the very complicated Rachmaninoff/broadcasting non-relationship.
      Victor Records rejecting Rachmaninoff and Horowitz recording Symphonic Dances for any reason is simply not true, and for a number of circumstantial reasons could not be true. It is one of those stories about the Horowitz-Rachmaninoff relationship that tended to be magnified by the Horowitz entourage after the death of the composer, and especially after his widow’s passing eight years later. It springs from Sergei Bertensson’s eye-witness account one of the two private duo-concerts Rachmaninoff and Horowitz played in Beverly Hills in June 1942. Among the exclamations, someone posited: they should make records of this! The Columbo/American Federation of Musicians recording ban, Rachmaninoff’s declining health and subsequent death ten months later make it unlikely for this to have even been proposed, and the absence any correspondence confirms the negative. Had Rachmaninoff lived into his planned retirement, he conceived the idea of playing duo-recitals with Horowitz, Dorothy Maynor and Marian Anderson. What recordings might have sprung from those, we can only dream.

      Lastly, it is not true that Victor Records rejected a Rachmaninoff proposal for them to record his last recital programs. This was an error first appearing in the otherwise reliable Bertensson-Leyda biography of Rachmaninoff perpetuated, I’m still guilty to say, by me in the essay accompanying RCA’s The Complete Rachmaninoff in 1973. It resulted from a misreading of a piece of correspondence in the NBC Conceret Bureau file. The proposal came FROM O’Connell at Victor and was rejected by Rachmaninoff, or rather by his manager Charles Foley. In this instance, O’Connell, who otherwise has a great deal to answer for, was blameless.

      • Francis Crociata says:

        A colleague kindly called my attention to an error in this comment. The musicians union labor leader who called the recording ban was James Caesar Petrillo, not Columbo. F.

  • Tom Varley says:

    I recall reading many years ago (and I can’t place the source) that RCA wanted the first recording of the Symphonic Dances to be by Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony, which had recently returned to the RCA label. Rachmaninoff objected, wanting Ormandy/Philadelphia to have the honor. Matters stood at an impasse and the the situation totally changed. The musicians strike but a hold on orchestral recordings from Aug 1942 to Nov 1942. When the strike ended the Philadelphia Orchestra had left RCA for Columbia. Stock died in Oct 1942 and Rachmaninoff in March 1943. The first recording was eventually made by Leinsdorf and the Rochester Philharmonic for Columbia in the early 1950s.
    Ormandy and Philadelphia didn’t get to record it until 1960.

    In April 1977 Ormandy programmed an all-Rachmaninoff concert, with the Isle of the Dead (the recording was issued by the Orchestra in a centennial set in 1999), the 2nd Piano Concerto (Gary Graffman was the soloist) and the Symphonic Dances. It was a fantastic concert. Ormandy often conducted from memory at concerts but was using a score for the concerto, perhaps unwillingly, because at the Saturday night performance he slammed the score shut at the final entrance of the big “Full Moon and Empty Arms” theme. It’s a pity RCA didn’t make new studio recordings of either the Isle or Dances in ’77.

    • Tom Varley says:

      Having now read the notes on the Marston site, I suspect my source for the Stock story was Charles O’Connell’s “Other Side of the Record”, which I read in college.

      I was surprised that Ormandy’s rendition of the Symphonic Dances wasn’t admired by Rachmaninoff and that Ormandy didn’t hold the work in high esteem. It certainly sounded like he believed in it that night I heard him perform it in 1977.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Ormandy’s magnificent performance of the Isle of the Dead from April 1977 is included in a 12-CD collection the Philadelphia Orchestra issued in 1999 for its centenary. It includes many other precious recordings. Not officially available on the market, but the aftermarket is another matter.

    • Francis Crociata says:

      Not quite right, Tom, but close. Rachmaninoff himself wanted to conduct the recording. Rachmaninoff was announced in the Philadelphia newspapers to conduct Dances on two Philadelphia subscription concerts he would share with Ormandy, and a subsequent recording dated scheduled. The reason(s) this fell through are too complicated to enumerate here, but was in no way a reflection of Rachmaninoff’s opinion of Stock as a conductor. No question, O’Connell was the bad guy in this instance and also in his previous quashing of a SCHEDULED recording of The Bells, with the composer conducting the Philadelphia and the Westminster Choir. See my other comment here about another O’Connell story in which he actually received a bad rap.

      • Tom Varley says:

        Thanks for the correction, Francis.Somewhere I have a copy of O’Connell’s book but it’s been many years since I thumbed through it.

        Stock was, in my opinion, a great conductor. He had an amazingly broad repertoire. I believe he conducted the 1st performance of the Prokofiev 3rd Concerto, the first American performance of “The Planets” and performed the Mahler 1st, too. The recordings he made for Columbia c 1938-40 are (sound-wise) inferior to what Victor was doing in Chicago 1925-30. The later Victors (1941-42) are excellent for the time but there are very few of them. I first encounter stock when I found a 78 set of his delightfully anachronistic transcription of the Bach E Flat Major Prelude & Fugue (“St. Anne”). Schoenberg transcribed it, too but Stock’s is more fun.

        I’m sorry O’Connell killed the planned recording of “The Bells”. That would have been something to hear,

        • Adam Stern says:

          The Seattle Philharmonic performed Mr. Stock’s “St. Anne” orchestration last March, and we had a wonderful time rehearsing and presenting it — it sounds absolutely glorious in person! A real joy to play.

  • barry guerrero says:

    The slower, heavier gait to the first movement is precisely how Simon Rattle conducts it. He’s now made two very good recordings of it. The first one was in Los Angeles for EMI (vinyl only). The recent Berlin one (Warner) has “The Bells” on it. For me, it’s among the very best things he’s done in Berlin.

    • Nelson says:

      There’s nothing wrong with Rattle’s version of the Bells. But put on Kondrashin or particularly the Svetlanov (the late 70s one) and there’s a whole other level of nuance and character. Particularly the 4th mvt. Svetlanov finds a pathos not unearthed by other versions. The sound IS rather fierce…guess nothing is perfect.

      • barry guerrero says:

        Thanks, but I’m more interested in the S.D’s, which I feel is one of the really great pieces of orchestration. If I taught an orchestration class, I would have the students do a careful study of it.

        • Adam Stern says:

          Totally agree! And I DID once use it when teaching an orchestration class, in particular as a superb example of an orchestral piano part.

          And then there’s that sax solo…

  • Vladimir Spivakov says:

    This is the greatest news in the world! From my childhood, Rachmaninoff was an ICON of mine. He is the greatest example of a HUMAN-BEING and an ARTIST. Every time I conduct or play his music, it is like meeting with someone who you have loved your whole life.

    From the bottom of my heart,

    Vladimir Spivakov

  • Gregor Benko says:

    Marston’s three CD set with the recording of Rachmaninoff demonstrating his Symphonic Dances at the piano and other historic Rachmaninoff recordings is now available. Critic Joseph Horowitz wrote in his review in today’s Wall Street Journal: ” … Rachmaninoff playing through his “Symphonic Dances” prior to Ormandy’s premiere performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra in January 1941. This turned out to be no morsel, but 26 minutes of a 35-minute composition. And it’s now embedded in a three-CD Marston set titled ‘Rachmaninoff Plays Symphonic Dances.’ The result is one of the most searing listening experiences in the history of recorded sound …”

  • Joshua Leff says:

    I am the proud owner of the 3-CD set discussed above. It is an overwhelming experience to listen to these historic recordings that were covertly made. Rachmaninoff sings along to his playing here and there throughout, the Symphonic Dances in his own solo piano version. Here we have the same recordings twice. One is edited to be heard in musical sequence. the other is left as it was in the order it was recorded. Then there is an extract of Brahms Ballade No 2 Op 10 and Liszt’s second Ballade in B minor, pitifully short, but only to know that the sound engineers were not recording the concert itself , They were setting up the equipment for another concert and caught these 2 extracts by chance. Then we have a Russian folk song.. Rachmaninoff accompanies Natasha Plevitskaya. these recordings capture very personal moments. Rachmaninoff the musician and Rachmaninoff the man. Eugene Ormandy announces the death of Rachmaninoff and a minute silence is called for before a magnificent performance of the Isle of the Dead is played in a live concert of course. Dimitri Metropoulos conducts the New York Phil in 1941 in the Symphonic dances. These are thrilling recordings. There’s more of course.. Highly recommended

  • Dr John Malpass says:

    Seeing the cost of the CDs and postage to UK, I hesitated for a moment….. but just for a moment.
    This is a truly overwhelming experience. I sat, listened, and just wept. Rachmaninoff at the piano is priceless but the other recordings add immeasurably to the whole. In particular, The Isle of the Dead, played just days after SVR’s death by Ormandy and the Philadelphians, is almost too much to bear.
    As for many contributors above, this issue has also sparked off a re-hearing, comparison, and re-assessment of so many interpretations from my large collection of recordings of SVR’s late works. Much pleasure still to come.
    Thank you for this to all who played a part in the discovery of these recordings and production if this superb set.