It always surprised me how out of fashion Rachmaninov’s music was until comparatively recently, with many of the works we now revere initially dismissed as indulgent and formally weak. He was seen by his contemporaries as a composer out of step with his era, and his music seemed mainly concerned with the past, issues that counted more against him then than they do now.
One side-effect of this previous disdain is that, almost 70 years after his death, we are still rescuing some of his earlier works from the limbo into which they fell. His two early string quartets have been only rarely available on CD and the ‘Romance in A minor’ enjoys its first recording here. Olding’s playing is particularly compelling and captures Rachmaninov’s opulent lyricism perfectly.
In particular I was happy to hear the 2nd Quartet, the music of which is still out of print in the West, and whose second movement is a wonderfully moody passacaglia that sounds like an early premonition of his late tone poem, The Isle of the Dead. The missing songs from the Opus 38 set are also a pleasing discovery, and throughout the disc Ashkenazy is in excellent form, as are Joan Rodgers and the Goldner String Quartet. A real addition to the recorded canon.