Notes and Editorial Reviews
op. 23/2, 4, 5.
op. 32/2–6, 10, 12.
Prelude in c?,
Variations on a Theme of Corelli
Vassily Primakov (pn)
BRIDGE 9348 (77:07)
This disc offers an enticing selection of Rachmaninoff works for solo
piano, enticing because after listening to it one wants to hear more of these alternately dazzling and haunting pieces in this pianist’s interesting interpretations. The program offered here includes several of the best-known preludes, but no opus other than the
is offered complete. The recital jumps around between op. 23 and op. 32, with the
plunked down more or less in the middle. The last piece on the disc is op. 3/2, chronologically one of the earliest of the works performed. Notwithstanding this seemingly arbitrary order, Vassily Primakov’s performances are technically impressive, interpretively persuasive in most cases, and quite distinctive.
Several features set Primakov’s renditions apart from those of other performers in this repertoire. His performances are consistently more deliberate and more highly inflected than others. He tends to deemphasize virtuosic brilliance in favor of a more thoughtful, nuanced, expressive approach. A salient feature of Primakov’s playing, often noted in
reviews of his previous recordings, is his liberal use of rubato and tempo modification, and he has sometimes been faulted for going too far with this device. I find that in these Rachmaninoff pieces his frequent tempo adjustments are almost always tasteful and judicious, effectively linked to an expressive purpose. One instance where he does go beyond the appropriate is in the well-known C?-Minor Prelude (op. 3/2), which seems a bit fussy, but this piece is an exception. Another Primakov characteristic is careful weighting of individual notes and phrases for the purpose of expressive shaping of a passage. He employs a lighter touch in this repertoire than many pianists, one that ideally balances percussiveness with continuity of line, and he tends to emphasize the left hand more than is common. This pianist is also especially adept at opening up the musical texture and tracing its individual strands without undermining unity and continuity.
As for alternatives, Nikolai Lugansky performs op. 3/2 and the 10 preludes of op. 23 on an Erato disc. His approach is more muscular and more straightforward in terms of tempo, and he displays an impressive technique, but I find Primakov’s playing clearer, more expressive, more sensitive to dynamic gradations, and altogether more interesting. Sviatoslav Richter, recorded in 1971 in six preludes from op. 23 and seven from op. 32 (Regis), is a more formidable competitor. He also employs quicker tempi and less rubato than Primakov but much more nuance than Lugansky. In the dense passages of the Prelude in B?-Major (op. 23/2), he achieves greater clarity and focus than Primakov. Elsewhere, Primakov pretty much holds his own against this titan of the keyboard with an alternative perspective that seems equally valid. Richter’s headlong, martial delivery of the G-Minor prelude (op. 23/5) contrasts markedly with Primakov’s more varied and thoughtful approach. In Primakov’s hands, the Prelude in G?-Minor (op. 32/12) is full of mystery and shadows; in Richter’s it is tinged with anger and desperation. Ruth Laredo conveniently combines the complete op. 23 and op. 32 preludes on a single disc (Sony), in performances that are fleet, incisive, and energetic. I haven’t heard recordings of the complete preludes by Steven Osborne (Hyperion) and Eldar Nebolsin (Naxos), both of which have received favorable comment in
. In the
, Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) is fiery and brilliant where the music calls for those qualities but comparatively wooden at lower dynamic levels and slower tempi, where Primakov applies all manner of expressive shadings.
Sound quality on this release is very good, clear and focused, well balanced throughout the frequency spectrum, with firm piano tone and gratifying presence and solidity in the bass.
I imagine that some will view Primakov’s playing as mannered, but I find his approach consistently interesting and compelling, and I recommend this disc as a valuable contribution to the Rachmaninoff discography.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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