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Sergei RachmaninoV (1873-1943)
Thirteen Preludes for Piano Op. 32 (1910)
No. 1 Allegro vivace [1:43]
No. 2 Allegretto [3:45]
No. 3 Allegro vivace [3:00]
No. 4 Allegro con brio [6:35]
No. 5 Moderato [3:24]
No. 6 Allegro appassionato [1:49]
No. 7 Moderato [2:54]
No. 8 Vivo [2:10]
No. 9 Allegro moderato [3:25]
No. 10 Lento [5:40]
No. 11 Allegretto [2:34]
No. 12 Allegro [2:44]
No. 13 Grave [5:24]
Kenneth Saxon (piano)
rec. 2005
PLUM CDS PLUM052 [45:12]

At one time the concept of complete sets of Rachmaninov Preludes, either Op.23 or Op.32, meant Moura Lympany. Today there are a couple of dozen recordings of the Op.32 available and here we have another, performed by the soloist/accompanist Kenneth Saxon.
Mr. Saxon teaches at the University of Texas and has been closely identified with the works of Kawai Shiu. He has also worked with Sir Harrison Birtwistle. On this disc he is playing very different music, which Mr. Saxon handles with variable results.
The Preludes Op.32 are among the composerís most important works and though punishing in their demands on the pianist are inspired not so much by Liszt as by the short, polyphonic works of Schumann. Mr. Saxon handles the opening Allegro vivace with a light, but not weak touch, leading to a well-played coda. The playing of the second Prelude is more variable, with the same sureness of touch and also great clarity in the polyphonic lines, but he could have injected a little more excitement overall. I was not greatly impressed by the rendition of the third and fourth Preludes, although an excellent touch was again to the fore. The fifth (moderato) was much more impressive both in the pianistís finger-work and his maintenance of polyphonic clarity. These positive features continue in the well-known sixth Prelude with some dramatic effectiveness added.
The more gentle seventh (Moderato) and eighth (Vivo) Preludes are well-handled and really bring out what seem to be Saxonís strong points: fineness of touch, a penchant for gentle as opposed to dramatic music and excellent handling of polyphony. These are all especially noticeable in No.8. The more dramatic requirements of the famous ninth and tenth preludes are somewhat beyond his scope, although the latter shows an excellent understanding of Rachmaninovís conception of musical architecture. The eleventh Prelude is also not too excitingly played, but Saxon excels with the best-known Op. 32 Prelude, the mysterious and passionate twelfth. This is arguably his best playing of all the Preludes, especially given that the twelfth is almost ubiquitous. The soloist continues his fine playing with the last Prelude, especially in the second half of the piece.
As can be seen, Mr. Saxon is a pianist notable in less dramatic works, although his technical proficiency extends to all types. It would be worthwhile to hear him in Schumann or perhaps Szymanowski more than Rachmaninov.
No venue or date is listed for this disc but the recording engineer, Mathew Snyder has done a fine job. However, as the disc includes only the forty-five minutes of the Preludes and no other music, it will probably not be a first choice among recordings of these pieces except among fans of Mr. Saxon.
William Kreindler


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