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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66081
Recording details: April 1983
St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: June 1988
Total duration: 35 minutes 8 seconds

'Elegant and scintillating' (Gramophone)

'Exceptional finesse … mirrored in beautilully natural and refined sound' (BBC Record Review)

'An essential recommendation' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Nothing less than a revelation' (The Guardian)

'These masterly performances can, I think, lay claim to being the finest, certainly the most individual, that we have yet heard on disc' (Hi-Fi News)

Preludes, Op 23
composer
mainly 1903; No 5: 1901

Other recordings available for download
Howard Shelley (piano)
Steven Osborne (piano)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Ten years after the Prelude in C sharp minor, Rachmaninov returned to the genre, once again in a mood of creative elation, having recently overcome two years of writers’ block to produce his Piano Concerto No 2. The harmonic and pianistic idiom of that work is strongly reflected in the collection of ten Preludes that make up his Op 23, composed between 1901 and 1903 (beginning with the famous G minor, No 5). If Rachmaninov needed emotional fuel for the soul-states explored in this set, he could have found it easily enough in his own past—in the joys of his privileged upbringing and especially the trauma of being twice uprooted from it (once thanks to the spendthrift habits of his father, then owing to failure in all his exams through laziness). The product of those elements was an intense nostalgia. At the same time, however, he had been building up one of the most formidable piano techniques of his day, thanks to the forcing-house regime of Nikolai Zverev and later the guidance of Rachmaninov’s cousin, the Liszt-pupil Alexander Siloti. And despite a certain reluctance to do his homework, he seems somehow to have acquired equally solid skills as a composer from his lessons with Sergei Taneyev, the greatest Russian master of counterpoint (as Tchaikovsky accurately described him). He was therefore able to fashion textures of maximal grandeur and opulence without resort to facile effect-mongering.

The opening Preludes of Op 23 establish three archetypes for the entire set. The sighing motifs of the slow F sharp minor, No 1, define a tone of melancholy introspection, while the florid arpeggios, indomitable chords and luxuriant final cascades of the fast B flat major, No 2, are redolent of a determination to master any adversity; No 3 in D minor, Tempo di minuetto, mediates between the extremes, its centre of gravity being a restrained neo-classicism that can shade into introversion or extroversion at will. The template established in these three opening Preludes is followed by the next four. No 4 is a Schumannesque song without words (compare the second of Schumann’s Romanzen Op 28), while the famous G minor Alla marcia frames melting lyricism with militant energy; the neo-Baroque phase then has to wait while the sighing lyrical E flat Prelude once again demonstrates Rachmaninov’s mastery of decorative accompaniment. When the maximalized Bachian toccata style of the C minor Prelude No 7 arrives, it does so as a tour de force. The last three Preludes in the Op 23 set are anything but anticlimactic. The A flat major No 8 sticks to its right-hand figuration as tenaciously, yet as resourcefully, as a Chopin Study, while the double notes of the Presto E flat minor are an earthier reincarnation of Liszt’s Feux follets (Will-o’-the-wisps) from the Transcendental Studies. Finally the slow G flat major avoids applause-orientated strategies and instead modestly closes the frame of the opus, reworking the sighs of the opening F sharp minor Prelude.

from notes by David Fanning © 2009


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