it is said, was the only pianist during
his lifetime to play his works. Even
if that is not completely true, a Rubinstein
or a Horowitz would have had to dig
deep for every bit of energy in reserve.
Pianists of the time were probably cowed
by the sheer physical strength required
to pull off any work by Rachmaninov.
We have seen the plaster casts of this
great pianist and composer’s hands –
they are the size of small countries.
Anyone now taking on his music bears
a heavy responsibility.
Today we have lots
of good pianists around. Some are great.
Many play technically without flaw but
have not a lot to say. Others are musical
but don’t have the chops. In listening
to this recording, I kept waiting for
an inevitable missed note, but it never
came. Not only is pianist Lydia Jardon
a powerhouse player, she makes a real
case for these Rachmaninov sonatas.
In this day and age of flashy performers,
it is wonderful to hear someone who
is in control of her technique, and
who possesses a knowledge that allows
her to dive deeply into the music, pulling
up pearl after pearl, presenting them
to us in a way that says, "I think
these are very interesting works, don’t
you?" Although the biographical
notes do not include age or nationality,
Jardon appears to be French and young.
She also sounds like someone we’d like
to meet, what with the school she runs
on the French Isle of Ushant, and her
interest in bringing good music teachers
to a struggling Bosnia. She has even
created the first all-women record label
in the Breton language. Here is a woman
of strong convictions, and this goes
a long way in championing some of the
most difficult repertoire in the piano
The excellent liner
notes by Richard Prieur fairly sparkle.
His passion and enthusiasm to fix Rachmaninov
and his music in time and place, a time
when everyone was either Stravinsky,
Gershwin, or Ravel, or was going to
see these musical constellations, is
palpable. Rachmaninov was someone determined
to bring forth romantic motives, in
the face of all that modernism. According
to the notes, Rachmaninov was not happy
with his first sonata, finding it interminable.
It is a high-energy work, almost relentlessly
so. There is a candid quote by Jardon,
sharing with us the frustrations encountered
in preparing these two sonatas. She
admits there are risks in both concerning
returning themes in different tonalities.
She explains how she addressed this
problem – I won’t give it away, you’ll
have to have a listen.
No dates are given
for the two Sonatas except that they
were composed between 1900 and 1913.
The second was composed in Rome, and
Rachmaninov compared it to Chopin’s
second sonata, "which lasts nineteen
minutes during which it says everything…"
Although clearly related to the first
sonata in structure and style, this
second Rachmaninov sonata lasts about
eighteen minutes, while the first is
nearly thirty-two minutes in length.
Rachmaninov had solved his own problems
of the first, drawn-out work when creating
the second. He made a second version
of the second sonata in 1931 and Horowitz
made a third version in 1943, the year
before Rachmaninov died. In any case,
there is no part of the piano untouched,
unexplored, in either sonata.
As with all Rachmaninov,
to hear these two Sonatas properly one
must sit back and fasten one’s seatbelt
for a cruise through a sea of emotions
– Rachmaninov’s, Lydia Jardon’s, and