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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Piano Sonata No. 1 opus 28 in D minor
Piano Sonata No. 2 opus 36 in B flat minor
Lydia Jardon, piano
Recorded at Theatre de Poissy, 2004
AR RÉ-SÉ 2002 - 4 [50:01]

Sergei Rachmaninov, 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 world.

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 your own.

Chase Pamela Morrison

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