Great cellist, first concerto recording

April 17, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Tchaikovsky, Variations on a Rococo Theme, Pezzo Capricioso, Nocturne; Shostakovich, Concerto No. 1. Performed by cellist Nathaniel Rosen and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, Emil Tabakov conducting (John Marks Records JMR 3).

It's almost scandalous to report that this is Nick Rosen's irst concerto recording. The only American cellist ever to win first prize in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition (1978), Rosen is one of our greatest cellists. Unfortunately, however, he lives in a world in which there is a lot of space for only one cellist -- Yo-Yo Ma -- and a little space left over for Lynn Harrell. John Marks, whose label this is, has previously recorded another of America's "should-be" star string players, the violinist Arturo Delmoni, and here he has coupled Rosen with a reasonably good Bulgarian orchestra and conductor and captured them in excellent sound. Rosen's playing is gutsy and brilliant in all of these pieces, equal to Ma's in the famous Tchaikovsky Variations and superior to his in the great Shostakovich concerto. The good news is that Marks promises to release Rosen's Brahms sonatas this July and his Bach suites in December. This record should be available at either Recordmasters at the Rotunda or An Die Musik in Towson. Those who cannot get to either of those emporiums can order it by calling the distributor, Allegro, at (800) 288-2007.

Scarlatti, Three Sonatas, Schubert, Impromptu in G-flat, Mussorgsky, "Pictures at an Exhibition," Chopin, Etude in C-sharp minor (opus 25, No. 7) and Ballade in G minor, Liszt, Consolation in D-flat major, Saint-Saens, "Danse Macabre." Performed by pianist Coleman Blumfield (Sonoris SCD5151).

Blumfield recorded this disc as a tribute to his teacher, Vladimir Horowitz. All of these pieces were part of the Horowitz repertory -- Blumfield even plays Mussorgsky's "Pictures" in his teacher's tarted-up arrangement and Horowitz's souped-up version of Liszt's arrangement of Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre." It's usually dangerous for another pianist to essay material so closely associated with so venerated and inimitable a virtuoso as Horowitz. But Blumfield has nearly infallible fingers, a good deal of temperament and a sonority that -- while not as brilliant or as intoxicating as his teacher's -- is varied and beautiful. He also has something that Horowitz did not always have -- good taste -- and his fine version of Chopin's G Minor Ballade is musically preferable to, if not quite as exciting as, that of the master himself.

Rachmaninoff, Concerto No. 3, Prokofiev, Concerto No. 3, pianist Martha Argerich and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin (Rachmaninoff) and the Berlin Philharmonic (Prokofiev), Riccardo Chailly conducting. (Artists Live Recording FED 049.)

If you buy only one piano concerto recording this year, make it this one and better do it fast. Pirates -- this is an unauthorized recording -- do not always remain available for long. This one contains what is the most brilliant performance of the Rachmaninoff Third -- it was Vladimir Horowitz's favorite

interpretation -- you will ever hear. Argerich played the piece for about a season or two and then inexplicably dropped it from her repertory. Why someone would go to the trouble of learning so difficult a piece, play it perhaps better than anyone in history, and then drop it, is anyone's guess. But that's Argerich's way, and I suspect that we'll never have a commercial disc of this

piece from her. This performance -- in excellent recorded sound, by the way -- is so superheated that you should avoid listening to if you have a history of heart problems or a tendency to hyperventilate. This Rach 3 compares to versions by other pianists the way the real thing compares to the merely imagined.

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