No 01 in C major: Allegro vivace
No 02 in B flat minor: Allegretto
No 03 in E major: Allegro vivace
No 04 in E minor: Allegro con brio
No 05 in G major: Moderato
No 06 in F minor: Allegro appassionato
No 07 in F major: Moderato
No 08 in A minor: Vivo
No 09 in A major: Allegro moderato
No 10 in B minor: Lento
No 11 in B major: Allegretto
No 12 in G sharp minor: Allegro
No 13 in D flat major: Grave
The C major finger-loosener often placed at the outset of such a cycle now appears as a launch-pad for the Op 32 Preludes. This one is not as ferociously sky-rocketing as its counterpart in Liszt’s Transcendentals, but it certainly issues a challenge, not least by proposing rising motifs as a counter-balance to Rachmaninov’s habitual dying falls. A neoclassical archetype not yet explored is the swaying siciliano rhythm, which now becomes the guiding thread through the B flat minor Prelude, No 2, a piece built on two waves of acceleration, neither of which succeeds in shaking off a fundamental melancholy or in avoiding a conclusion in a mood of stoical resignation.
The Allegro vivace E major Prelude does break free, however, in another neo-Bachian aerobic workout, almost like an updated solo version of a Brandenburg Concerto. There is even, perhaps, the ghost of gigue behind its shadowy successor, the E minor Prelude No 4, whose contrasting sigh figures are eventually given their due in a languorous central section. With the rocking motion and ecstatic, flowering melody of the G major No 5 we gain the first glimpse in the Op 32 set of consoling lyricism. At the opposite extreme, the turbulent F minor is full of wrathful passion. The nearest Rachmaninov comes to cheery playfulness in any of his Preludes is the almost genial F major, No 7. Pre-figuring the Étude-tableau from Op 39 in the same key, the A minor Prelude No 8 is implacably driven, as if with the wind at its back and the rain swirling round it. A further switch to the opposite mode for No 9 brings another luxuriant tapestry woven from the thread of a sighing motif. Then come two more siciliano-based pieces, the slow B minor Prelude, No 10, with its pulverizing contrasting section, and the faster, more restrained B major Prelude.
The G sharp minor Prelude, No 12, is the last favourite encore piece in the set, its harp-like figurations running like water down the window-panes of a Russian dacha. Finally the D flat major Prelude once again closes a frame, this time harking right back to the infamous C sharp minor of Op 3; it also has a certain summative quality, thanks to its inclusion of siciliano rhythms, sighing motifs, étude figurations, an accelerating middle section and a ringing chordal apotheosis. As if to trademark his piano idiom, Rachmaninov here concludes with a piece that demands a formidable hand-stretch, of the kind he almost uniquely possessed.
from notes by David Fanning © 2009