Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite for Orchestra in d
Fugue in d.
Prelude in g,
Prelude in g?,
Piano Sonata No. 2
Denis Matsuev (pn)
RCA 715591 (60:23)
This album is titled “Unknown Rachmaninoff”—and for most aficionados, the big news is the inclusion of two recently uncovered works apparently from 1891: a fugue written for a composition class with Arensky (actually, a longer version of the work previously published as the Piece in D Minor) and the composer’s own transcription of an orchestral suite long thought lost. Or, more accurately, the disc includes what’s
as the piano version of the Suite: certainly, the information we’re given in Marina Gaykovich’s notes doesn’t allay any initial doubts. The manuscript, missing its first page, identifies neither composer nor title; and all we’re told about the process of attribution is that “specialists [who?] managed to verify [how?] Rachmaninoff as the author and proved [how?] that it was the Suite.” I’m maintaining a healthy skepticism.
In any case, the Suite is a substantial work (nearly 20 minutes) most notable for its grand first movement. It sounds momentarily like a premonition of the C?-Minor Prelude, but it soon launches into a striving melodic surge with a surprising kinship to the first movement of the Paderewski Sonata. Lasting an extremely eventful eight minutes, the movement offers plenty of intricate inner voice activity, a great deal of attractive (if not especially Rachmaninoffian) melodic material, and consistent evidence of harmonic ingenuity. The three follow-ups are less engaging (the pseudo-Classical gestures of the third-movement minuet are particularly bland), but even here, the music offers splashes of interest—say, in the contrapuntal curls of the Lento or the outdoorsy spirit of the final Allegro. If the work is really by Rachmaninoff, the piece further confirms his early mastery of the keyboard (it certainly doesn’t sound like a transcription); if it’s by someone else, it’s someone else worth knowing. As for the so-called Fugue: largely written in two voices, it’s more of a toccata than a fugue; but whatever you call it, it’s fueled by bracing energy and dashes of harmonic spice.
It’s especially good to have this new material introduced by so persuasive an advocate as Denis Matsuev. As you might expect from a youthful firebrand whose first recording was called “Tribute to Horowitz,” virtuoso brilliance takes precedence over lyrical expression—but he’s far from cold, and he plays the Fugue and the Suite with the unflagging conviction usually reserved for masterpieces. The more familiar works are impressive too. Matsuev’s playing tends to be lean and angular, but he keeps the busiest passages from sounding cluttered (rarely has the passagework in the first movement of the Sonata emerged so cleanly), and he plays with plenty of rhythmic snap. Those who prefer their Rachmaninoff lush may, at times, feel a bit battered—Matsuev certainly pounces on every opportunity to crush you with reminders of his power (the
Étude-tableau in D
, op. 39/9 sounds particularly cataclysmic here). And it would be idle to pretend that his recording of the Sonata has the depth of Grimaud’s or that he matches the ebb and flow of Richter in the Preludes and in the
that he recorded. But given Matsuev’s premises, this is playing of a very high order; certainly, his reading of the Fugue is far more thrilling than, say, Biret’s or Shelley’s relatively anodyne recordings of the shorter version.
The recording was made on Rachmaninoff’s own Steinway at his villa in Senar, Switzerland—and the engineering is up-front and immediate. All in all, a significant release.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Works on This Recording
Fugue in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninov
Denis Matsuev (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Length: 2 Minutes 21 Secs.
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