Thursday, 29 August 2013

Moura Lympany: An English Pianist playing Rachmaninov 3

I heard Moura Lympany's performance of the Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor at a 1975 Glasgow Promenade Concert:  ever since I have been a fan of her playing. Shortly after this concert, I found a copy of her recording of Alan Rawsthorne’s first piano concerto. This had originally been issued on HMV CLP1118 in 1957. Around the same time I bought one of the iconic series of Decca Eclipse albums that featured Lympany playing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto coupled with five of his Preludes. I have disposed of the record but have since purchased the transfer to CD on Moura Lympany: Decca Recordings 1951-1952 on the Decca Originals series made in 2004. There has been a further release on the Magdalen label (METCD8016) (2012)
The original recording had been released on Decca LXT2701 and was a 12” disc priced at 39s.6d (nearly £2) which would have been a considerable price in 1952. The New Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Anthony Collins.

M.M. writing in The Gramophone (August 1952) considered that Moura Lympany gave a ‘smooth, fluent and very well-shaped performance of this very difficult work, revealing every facet of its slightly Sunday-afternoonish beauty.’ Bearing in mind that Rachmaninov had composed this concerto whilst he was living in the tranquil setting of his, family’s country estate, Ivanovka, this description is ideal.  The work was completed on 23 September 1909.
The reviewer felt that the slow movement was the weak point in this recording and could have had ‘a little more to yield up than pianist of conductor will claim.’
However, he felt that '...the Lympany style the work a well rounded unity that it does not always seem to possess.’ Personally I disagree with the second half of this sentence: I feel that is it is a well-rounded, formally satisfying concerto.
Some sixty years later Donald Ellman has reviewed the Magdalen 2012 transfers of Lympany’s performance to CD. Writing in the Classical Recording Quarterly (Autumn 2012) he has pointed out that it is ‘extremely fleet and nimble... there is always a very natural sense of momentum, with no sense of indulgence and posturing that has characterised some more recent performances.’  He considers that ‘her playing is imbued with lovely sound that seems to come from within rather than being imposed from without’.
It is surprising to read that here were some minor cuts made to each movement. I understand that the composer himself authorised a number of cuts to the score that could be made at the pianist’s discretion.  These were mainly in the second and third movements and to the cadenza.  At the time of the recording, it was standard practice to make these cuts and probably helped to squeeze the entire work onto one LP. The reviewer in The Gramophone felt that ‘little was lost’. The re-master is about 36-37 minutes long – however a modern recording would be typically on the 40 minute mark.

Donald Ellman notes that the cuts to the three movements follows Rachmaninov’s own. He wonders if the composer would have made them is he had the ‘advantages of modern technology.’ In 2012 cuts to this work would hardly be tolerated.


coppinsuk said...


Thank you for the most interesting article.

Weren't the Decca Eclipse label fantastic productions. I particularly liked their "electronic stereo" recording transcriptions of the old monaural recordings - not to everyone's taste though!! Excellent sleeve covers also. Great pressings.

Do you have any information about who the "New Symphony Orchestra of London" was, or even of its composition?

Was it the fore-runner of the ensembles that recorded for Reader's Digest in the early 60's and eventually morphed into the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which was fixed by Sidney Sax?

Any enlightenment would be truly appreciated.

You can contact me at :

Thanking you.


Douglas (UK)

John France said...

Thanks for the comment. will try to investigate!