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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Daisies, after op. 38/3 (1916, trans. 1922, rev. 1940)
Lilacs, after op. 21/5 (1902, trans. 1913, rev. 1941)
Variations on a theme of Corelli, op. 42 (1931), 6 moments musicaux, op. 16 (1896)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
The Fair at Sorochintsy (c. 1880): Finale (trans. Rachmaninov 1923)
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Cradle Song, op. 16/1 (1872, trans. Rachmaninov 1941)
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1900): The flight of the bumble-bee (trans. Rachmaninov c.1929)
Scott Davie (piano)
rec. 2002, Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
ABC CLASSICS 472 671-2 [60:55]

How strange to give prime billing on the cover to “Lilacs”, rather like recording Beethoven’s op. 110 & 111 plus “Für Elise”, and then giving pride of place to the latter.

However, this is a disc that needs to be taken seriously, and first of all I’d better explain the “Overs piano” since in general, if a disc names the piano at all, it is a Steinway or a Bösendorfer or something equally in need of no introduction.

After some fifteen years of rebuilding concert pianos for Australian institutions, Ron Overs came up with a number of design enhancements in 2000 (patent pending) and went into piano production on his own account. The instrument used here is his third. Interested readers are referred to his website where the story is told in full with technical details and photographs of his design features. I must say that, helped by what seems to be an excellent acoustic and some splendid work by the recording producer Peter Taplin and the recording engineer Michael McClintock, my first impression was of a remarkably rich sound, with plenty of bass sonority and singing easily into the upper reaches of the keyboard. Too easily? Occasionally, usually in mezzoforte passages, I detected a certain airiness to the sound which, if Davie were playing a Steinway, I would attribute to a touch which resides too much on the surface of the keyboard rather than down on the bed of the keys. Sometimes, if a piano has too easy a touch, it is necessary to play like this to avoid hardness. But it is difficult to tell what is the case here. Certainly the climax of the fourth Moment musical produces a satisfactorily pinging sound, without hardness. Here Rachmaninov is using the upper register. The powerful no. 6 is centred on the middle register and I get the impression that in this region the piano sound fails to expand fully. Well, I wonder how many pianos Mr. Steinway had made before he got it all absolutely right.

To get an all-round idea of this piano I should need to hear it live, and hear how it responds to different pianists (better still have a go myself ...). But the main news is that Ron Overs has made an impressive bid to be considered an important source of good pianos, and to this purpose he has been fortunate in the repertoire and the pianist chosen.

The Australian pianist Scott Davie has made a particular study of Rachmaninov (his repertoire includes the 1926 version of the Fourth Concerto) and he provides detailed and sympathetic notes. Untroubled by the composer’s technical demands, he proves duly appreciative of the more acerbic late Rachmaninov of the Corelli Variations and penetrates the melancholy atmosphere of the earlier Moment musicaux without exaggeration or losing the overall shape of each piece. Rachmaninov’s teeming textures are always kept clear, with the right relationship between the melodies, counter-melodies and accompanying figures. In “The flight of the bumble-bee” Ivan Davis (on Decca) showed a virtuosic sleight of hand which just eludes Davie (his bee sounds like an angry hornet), but in the main this is a disc that can be confidently bought by anyone attracted by the programme.

Regarding the bumble-bee, I wonder if any reader with a knowledge of Russian can clear up a mystery. The Italian name for this piece is not “Il volo dell’ape”, which would be the literal equivalent, but “Il volo del calabrone”, which means hornet. So does the original Russian title mean bee or hornet?

Christopher Howell


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