Rachmaninov refused to allow his live performances to be recorded or broadcast; the recordings we have of him were all made under tightly controlled studio conditions. So the discovery of a recording of the great composer and pianist playing through his recently composed Symphonic Dances – almost certainly recorded covertly, literally behind the pianist’s back – is a major landmark.
Marston Records is now issuing this impromptu performance, a vitally important document. Rachmaninov was part of a gathering with the conductor Eugene Ormandy, to whom the Symphonic Dances are dedicated and who was soon to give the premiere, and sat at the piano to play the piece through. The work was complete in short score, which formed the basis of the two‑piano version, but its orchestration was still a work in progress. This occasion, probably at Ormandy’s home, was recorded on two double-sided 10-inch acetate discs, and these were discovered in the Eugene Ormandy Collection of Test Pressings and Private Recordings, now held at the University of Pennsylvania.
The performance isn’t quite complete, and Rachmaninov didn’t play through the work in sequence. It is presented in two versions, one edited to follow the order of the score, the other exactly as it was recorded, with the composer jumping from place to place as he demonstrated. The three-disc set also includes other significant performances, including Dimitri Mitropoulos’s account of the orchestral version of the Symphonic Dances, which was prepared in Rachmaninov’s presence and met with his approval.
When Rachmaninov proposed to his record label, RCA Victor, that he record his Symphonic Dances and Second Suite for two pianos with Vladimir Horowitz, the label astonishingly rejected the idea. Many have long been bewildered by that decision, and what was lost to posterity. This fascinating new discovery offers ample compensation.
Further information about this recording is available from marstonrecords.com