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Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Variations on a Theme of Corelli (1931) [20:05]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Twenty-Four Preludes Op.34(1932-33) [34:06]
Banu Sözüar (piano)
rec. 19-20 April 2004, Herrenhaus Borstel, Germany
ARCO DIVA UP 0075-2 131 [54:12]

The small independent Arco Diva label uses, for this recording, the ‘CLARA Audiophile Recording Technique’ – "a ‘one point’ recording technique using two microphones arranged in a separation unit. The recorded material is placed directly onto the sound carrier without any mixing and rebalancing". I include this description because the acoustic sounds natural, warm and very clear.

Banu Sözüar was born in Istanbul, studied in Vienna and attended international master courses conducted by Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Jörg Demus. She made her debut at the age of 15 and has since performed all over the world and made a number of recordings, TV and radio broadcasts.

The theme on which Rachmaninov’s based his Corelli Variations was introduced to him by Fritz Kreisler with whom he had recorded sonatas by Grieg, Beethoven and Schubert in 1928. Interestingly, the theme is not by Corelli, rather an anonymous tune known as ‘La Folia’ used by Corelli in a work of his own. The Corelli Variations are a late work (1931) and not unlike the variations of the famous Paganini Rhapsody for piano and orchestra composed three years or so later.

For the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations I compared Sözüar’s reading with that of Howard Shelley on Hyperion CDA66009 (recorded in 1978). Whereas Sözüar’s performance spans 20:05 minutes Howard Shelley spends just 18:30. From the outset Shelley’s reading is more commanding, and has more light and shade, more poetry. Looking at, for instance, those two variations at the heart of the work, Sözüar’s Intermezzo, Variation XIV is measured melancholy; it may lack the power and emotional depth of Shelley’s reading but her treatment of the following L’istesso tempo variation is beautifully limpid; but then so too is Shelley’s - with added nuances.

Shostakovich was thirty years old at the time of composition of his 24 Preludes and established as the number one composer in the Soviet Union. Only a few years later he would fall into political disfavour to live in constant fear of persecution. The 24 Preludes are rarely performed complete – perhaps because of their playful, eclectic nature; there are direct quotes from the music of Chopin, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. This is a pity because heard one after the other a definite pattern emerges showing that this is a unified work of art. The Preludes’ styles vary widely from the balletic and serenely beautiful to the bizarre and menacing. But Shostakovich’s sense of sardonic humour is often evident too.

Sözüar’s reading of the Preludes brings out all their varied kaleidoscopic characteristics. You can sense that she enjoys their innate skittishness, her interpretations moving seamlessly through tenderness, playfulness and bitter angst.

A characterful reading of the Shostakovich Preludes and a lightly shaded interpretation of the Rachmaninov Variations make up a pleasant CD and an unusual coupling for the adventurous.

Ian Lace

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