Favorite Performances of Russian Compositions

Last friday I was driving home and after a long day of work I was looking forward to enjoying some nice mellow classical music on the radio.

Well, luck of all luck I happened to tune in right at the beginning of one of my favorite pieces Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #3. The first thing that struck me was the clarity and openess of this recording, but as I continued to listen I became absolutely riveted by both the orchestration and the performance of the pianist.

I've listened to classical music since I was a toddler, but by no means do I consider myself well versed in this genre. However, throughout life I've found that certain types of music/genres make slightly different emotional connections with me. I especially have an affinity for Russian composers such as Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Scriabin and Prokofiev.

During my drive home I heard many things in this interpretation of Prokofiev's 3rd I had never heard before, but more than anything I was completely absorbed by this performance. When I finally arrived in my parking structure I knew that there was still another five minutes remaining in this piece so I parked the car, shut off the engine and listened to the finale with my eyes closed. Wow, what a powerful performance. I don't think I'd ever heard Prokofiev's 3rd played like this and was never as affected by it like I was that night.

When the recording ended there was a short silence, then the radio announcer said this was "The" recording of Sergei P's Piano Concerto #3. I had to agree. But when he said the pianist was Gary Graffman, and that it was conducted by George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra in a 1966 recording I felt pretty dumb. Although I have a limited knowledge of classical music I'm no newbie, but I thought, "who are these guys?"

After searching for the CD at Amazon and reading the reviews it seems many people feel the same way as the radio announcer on the LA station I heard it on. Some of the reviewers also mentioned recordings of this piece by Martha Argerich with Claudio Abbado and Vladimir Ashkenazy with Andre Previn. Are there any others to consider?

I've also never forgotten Barry Douglas's performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition during the 1986 Tchaikowsky Competition and Vladimir Horowitz's performance of Scriabin's two pieces during his return to Moscow.

As you relax during the holiday weekend, maybe you can reflect on some of your favorite performances and share them with your fellow A'goNers.

Happy Holidays!
If you ain't a newbie, you must be young. Graffman and Szell are pretty well-known. As for other #3s, the Argerich a favorite of many but I like the Janis/Kondrashin equally. For a complete set of the Prokofiev's, I suggest Beroff/Mazur.

BTW, some day I'll show you the pix of me and Graffman after a recital I produced but that's another story.....
The Byron Janis with Kyril Kondrashin conducting on Mercury Living Presence is excellent. It was recorded live in Moscow in June of 1962 and the CD also contains the Rachmaninoff 1st Concerto and a few pieces for solo piano. The CD has the absolute phase reversed so be sure to change it. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances on Reference Recordings is absolutely fantastic and should be in everyones library.
Gunbei, One of my favorite Prokofiev disc's combines his Symphony #7 and the Concerto #3 by Leif Ove Andsnes and the Bergen PO led by Ole Kristian Ruud on Simax. Both are performed in a bold romantic style. Not saying its the "best of anything" but its an excellent performance, recording, and a great entry point for someone in Prokofiev's more assessible music.

For something not on your list, but very Russian from the romantic period, is Grechaninov. I'd start with Sym #1 on a Chandos CD. This is good, but what makes this CD great is the accompanying Russian choral music (for which Grechaninov is better known). The piece "Snowflakes" is worth the price of the disc and the Missa Sancti Spiritus is also excellent. If you really love Russian from the romantic period you need to hear this!

And if you haven't already been there, Tchaikovsky's Suites # 1 thru 4 and other misc orchestral music. Jarvi has put together an excellent 4 disc series on Chandos which also include on of my favorite, but obscure peices, Fate (fatum), and the Storm. The others include The Tempest, Francesca de Rimini, and the Seasons. Excellent performances and recordings.

I'll let others comment on the more popular stuff.
Martha Argerich's recording is usually held up as the definitive version, I do agree with the positive statements regarding Graffman's version.

Another one I like is hard to find, but is Garrick Ohlsson's first place performance at the 1966 Busoni Competition. It's on the Nuova Era label (Italy, I believe) and was issued in 1988.
I ain't that young so I MUST be a newbie, heheh. Maybe I should say that I've always loved classical music but I don't know a lot about it.

Outstanding, keep the recommendations coming!
Since 1986 Gary Graffman has been President and Director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadephia.


Graffman's career was shortened by injury similar to Leon Fleisher.

I heard them both play a world premier piece together in Baltimore a couple years ago that was composed for both of them by William Bolcom. It was for two pianos, for the left hand only. Mr. Bolcom was in attendance as well. Fun evening!

Ned Rorem's Concerto No.4 for the left hand was dedicated to Mr. Graffman. There is a CD of him playing it at Curtis with Andre Previn conducting the school's orchestra.
Ok, some good Russian music...

If you want a modern Rach 3, then check out Arcadi Volodos on Sony Classical. I find generally the Russian's usually plays their music better than most western artists. It is in their blood.

For Rach 2, my favorite is the 1972 Ashkenazy/Previn on London.

There is a recording of Rachmaninov playing all his concertos. If you can stand the hiss, it is fun to listen to the source.

I have the Mussorgsky/Douglas on LP. It is very good. There is also a very good new CD by Evgeny Kissen on RCA.

One of my favorite Prokofiev recordings is my Peter and the Wolf narrated by rock star David Bowie. My copy is on a clear green vinyl LP.

When you think you are ready for some intense Russian music, then give Shostakovich a listen. Too many good pieces to list. Pick one.
I find William Kapell's recording of Prokofiev's 3rd PC on RCA to be pretty "definitive." As for Moussorgsky's Picture at an Exhibition, I usually reach for Sviatoslav Richter's live Sofia recording on Philips. All the coughing from the audience can be a bit distracting, but I know of no other recording of this piece that is so ntense and moving.

As for Rachmaninov's PCs, my favorite 2 is Richter on DG (coupled with phenomenal Prokofiev's PC 5). My nod for 3 goes to Horowitz's 1951 recording on RCA (just barely over Horowitz's 1930 recording), and for 4, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's recording on EMI is as good as it gets.
So far, my favorite performance of a Russian Composition was Rostropovich conducting the New York Phil doing Shostakovich 8 and Lady Macbeth of Mtensk last year. Unfortunately, I saw it live, and I don't think there's a CD.
Sorry, hit submit too early. While not my favorite performance of a russian composition, I picked up Masur/NYP doing Scheherazade. Very, very nice. Well recorded and expressive. You might not like it if you don't like tempos to move too much, though.
There is some great Russian music coming out on the Regis label, performed by both Russian and Ukrainian artists and orchestras.

For "mainstream," one of my favorites continues to be Pletnev's recording of Mussorgksy's "Pictures." It's on Virgin.
Thanks everyone for your generous suggestions. I just recived Gary Graffman's performance of Prokoviev's 3rd and enjoyed it on my drive into work early this morning.

Now, I look forward to investigating and sampling your other suggestions!!