RACHMANINOV Preludes (Moura Lympany)
Here is the first recording ever made of all Rachmaninov’s Preludes. Recorded for Decca between May 1941 and August 1942, it has not been available since it was first issued complete in August 1943, just five months after the composer’s death. Nearly 10 years later, Dame Moura recorded the entire cycle again for the new LP format. Over 40 years after that, in April 1993, she recorded all 24 again, this time for an Erato CD. Lympany’s is a unique achievement.
Most collectors will have the 1951 Decca or 1993 Erato in their collection. So is her first attempt worth having? Absolutely. Is it significantly different? No. All three have their pros and cons. Overall, I would place it a close second to the 1951 recording. The 78s have been sensitively remastered by Andrew Hallifax, who has rightly sought to preserve the gorgeous, cushioned tone (Lympany was a Matthay pupil) at the expense of some surface swish. From the first notes of the famous Prelude in C sharp minor to the final Prelude of Op 32, you feel in safe hands, knowing that nothing will be exaggerated or sentimentalised, agogics and dynamics faithfully translated, in performances that take no account of the inhibiting power of the red light. There are a number of slips along the way (an unfortunate one in the antepenultimate bar of the B minor Prelude) and the final C natural of Op 32 No 7 is inaudible. I miss the tenor line in the A flat Prelude (Op 23 No 8) – it is also underplayed in the 1951 performance – and some of the pieces sound less in the fingers than others. But these are minor reservations. There are simply so many glories here: the popular G minor Prelude bears comparison with any, while the lovely G flat major and G major are also the best of Lympany’s three versions. One is left wondering why such a recording has taken so long to come back into circulation.