Rachmaninov: Preludes (The 1941-42 Recordings)

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Throughout a career spanning over 60 years, Dame Moura Lympany was closely associated with the music of Rachmaninov. It began as an unlikely meeting of minds and fingers: what was this slight and beautiful young Englishwoman doing with music that needed the composer's own huge hands to span its ninths and tenths, written by a man immortalized in Stravinsky's quip, 'a six-and-a-half-foot scowl'? In 1945, two years after the composer's death, the record producer John Culshaw, then still a serving lieutenant in the Royal Navy, wrote an essay celebrating and defending Rachmaninov in the face of scepticism and reserve from English audiences. Culshaw begged to differ, and among the recordings he cited to make his point, Moura Lympany's first - indeed, pioneering - set of the Preludes took pride of place. She was owed 'a debt of gratitude', he remarked, for undertaking 'a considerable task'. 'Music so sincerely conceived and so perfectly written can never die' and posterity has proved him right beyond all possible expectation. The recordings were made by Decca in six sessions between 29 May 1941 and 26 August 1942 and the records issued between October 1941 and August 1943, on 78 rpm records, with two preludes per disc. The release of the third 78 was welcomed by the long-standing and maverick editor of Gramophone, Compton Mackenzie with a clerihew: 'Miss Moura Lympany/Avoids any suggestion of the timpani/Or of bringing a pan in of/Tin to play Rachmaninov.' The composer himself had recorded only seven Preludes; Lympany's colleague, Eileen Joyce, had done six of them. Lympany went on to make two more celebrated recordings of the Preludes, in 1951 (reissued by Decca in 2004) and again in 1993, for Erato. The luminous passage work, vivid palette of colours and considerable reserves of power for which she was often celebrated in Rachmaninov: all these qualities were present in abundance in her first recording which now receives its first release on CD - a major addition to Lympany's discography.