Rachmaninoff: Complete Piano Music
The piano dominated Rachmaninoff’s creative thinking from the start. Even his four early piano pieces of 1887 reveal the extraordinary sense of kinship he felt with the instrument. However, these enchanting early offerings were outclassed by his first piece to evoke the brooding passion that would remain a powerful force in his music for decades to come: the Prelude in C sharp minor. This became one of five Morceaux de fantaisie which attracted the praise of Tchaikovsky, and the composer, while often suffering painful bouts of self-doubt, was rarely unable to turn out the kind of salon pieces that enjoyed a ready audience. However, he soon had higher ambitions in mind, emulating Chopin (and before him) Bach by composing the sequence of Op.23 Preludes in the early years of the 20th century, and following it with two sonatas which demanded the prodigious technique that almost he alone of contemporary performers could marshal. The Op 32 Preludes date from a Schumann-esque 18-day burst of creativity, but they distil Rachmaninoff’s pianistic imagination at its most diverse, completing the cycle. His compositional voice is darker and still more introspective in the sequences of Etudes-tableaux, which forsake the free and lyrical vein of his earlier music for a disciplined austerity that would reach a climax in his large-scale Symphonic Dances and The Bells, though finding a more fantastical outlet in the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Thus the set presents a guide to the life and the voice of one of Russia’s most dominant and individual musical voices. Compiled from recordings made during the last ten years, it features young artists such as Lukas Geniušas and Zlata Chochieva who have gone on to achieve deserved fame as mature artists.
Note that this boxed set is not identical to Brilliant Classics’ 2010 complete Rachmaninov piano music edition issued in the label’s deleted Piano Library series. Its contents largely stem from the Piano Classics label’s 2016 Rachmaninov box. Included are Lukas Geniušas’ sensitive, musicianly readings of the complete Preludes; Zlata Chochieva’s formidable virtuosity throughout her dramatic and full-bodied Etudes-Tableaux, Chopin Variations, and Piano Sonata No. 1; and Elisa Tomellini’s idiomatic readings of a group of early piano pieces. While Rachmaninov’s own recordings of his transcriptions convey palpable force and projection, Alexander Ghindin, by contrast, is all relaxation and elegance.
The Piano Classics box featured Nikolai Lugansky’s Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No. 2 and Corelli Variations, first issued by Channel Classics, replaced here by Santiago Rodriguez’s far more exciting interpretations originally released on the Elan label (all of Rodriguez’s Elan releases are worth seeking out). Ingryd Thorson and Julian Thurber’s solid performances of the piano duo works are familiar from the earlier Brilliant Classics’ collection. A pity that harsh and blurry sonics compromise the pianists’ expertly synchronized teamwork. Still, it’s good to have high-level performances of the solo works under one roof, at a super-bargain price.
– ClassicsToday.com (Jed Distler)
Catalog Number: BRI96185
Label: Brilliant Classics
Composer: Anton Stepanovich Arensky, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Behr, Franz Schubert, Fritz Kreisler, Georges Bizet, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Stafford Smith, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Sergey Rachmaninov
Performer: Alexander Gavrylyuk, Alexander Ghindin, Elisa Tomellini, Lukas Geniušas, Nils Franke, Santiago Rodriguez, Zlata Chochieva