SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, PIANO; "Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff" (RCA Red Seal) ★★★★

VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, PIANO; "The Legendary Berlin Concert 1986" (Sony Classical) ★★★★

VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, PIANO; "Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall, the Private Collection: Haydn and Beethoven" (RCA Red Seal) ★★★★

VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, PIANO; "Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall, the Private Collection: Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Balakirev" (RCA Red Seal) ★★★★

Sergei Rachmaninoff made numerous recordings during his career, and thanks to advanced technology, many of those are available today in a high-quality digital format.

RCA Red Seal has recently released an album of Rachmaninoff playing his own works and transcriptions in what the label calls "re-performances."

These are sophisticated computerized remasters using a 1909 Steinway grand piano, an instrument that Rachmaninoff would have played on. The sound is amazing, and the quality is what one would expect from a digital recording. Rachmaninoff recorded the originals between 1921 and 1942, but with this newer technology they don't have any of the poor sound that remastered 78s have had until now. This album brings Rachmaninoff's playing solidly into the 21st century.

The 13 tracks on the album are presented twice — first in regular stereo, then for headphones that give a sense of what Rachmaninoff heard while he recorded these pieces.

A few of the tracks stand out from the others. One is his well-known Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 3, no. 2, which Rachmaninoff imbues with emotion in his passionate and intense interpretation.

Another is his transcription of three movements from J.S. Bach's Violin Partita No. 3 in E major. He plays these with a fine blend of baroque simplicity and romantic feeling.

Other tracks on this CD include a couple of his etude-tableaux (op. 33, no. 2 and 7) and his transcriptions of two Fritz Kreisler salon pieces, "Liebesleid" and "Liebesfreud."

For anyone who enjoys historical recordings, this one is definitely a must-have.

The same is true for the three albums by Vladimir Horowitz. One of the greatest 20th-century pianists, these CDs of his performances need to be in everyone's collection. They are a wonderful representation of his repertoire, which spanned some four centuries of music — from the baroque era's Domenico Scarlatti to that of the early 20th-century mystic and genius Alexander Scriabin.

Few pianists have or have had Horowitz's innate musicality. Everything he played, whether it was Frédéric Chopin or Robert Schumann or Franz Liszt, was done with incomparable confidence and polish. One of Horowitz's greatest talents was his almost unique interpretive sense, which allowed him to delve into the music and capture its subtle nuances and colors.

And his technical skills were no less formidable. He was a giant of the keyboard and made everything he played sound easy and natural. And his technique wasn't in any way diminished when he returned to Germany in 1986 for a series of concerts. The live recording of his performance in Berlin is fabulous for his inimitable lyrical playing and the rich expressiveness of his interpretations. He was 83 at the time of these concerts, but he certainly played like a much younger man.

The two historical recordings that RCA Red Seal has released are remastered recordings of live performances done in Carnegie Hall between 1945 and 1950. The sound quality is exceptional, and both highlight some of Horowitz's favored composers. The playing is wonderfully crafted and phrased. The sonata by Joseph Haydn (no. 62 in E flat major) is perhaps a bit more romantically flavored than what one would expect, but nevertheless it is valid and completely engrossing.

Horowitz's account of Mily Balakirev's "Islamey" is a show stopper. Technically challenging, he plays it with ease and brings fine lyricism to his account.

The three albums are stunning and make one realize how much someone like Horowitz is missed among the myriad pianists of today who have all the technical flash but lack any musical substance.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com