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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata No.1 in D minor Op.28 (1907) [39.27]
Morceaux de Salon Op.10 (1893-94) [33.41]
Martin Cousin (piano)
rec. The Banff Centre, October 2004
SOMM CD048 [73.16]

Executed with considerable control and command of the idiom this is a more than useful debut disc by British pianist Martin Cousin. The choice to take on the D minor sonata was canny, in that it tends to be less well regarded than it might be and less widely performed as well. And it tends to be a work of which the difficulties involved in its taming are held in direct ratio to its impact in performance. With a well considered view of its difficulties and a powerful technique to put those ideas into practice the sonata can sound as it does here, powerfully argued, full of rhetoric, itís true, but also thoroughly imaginative.
 
Cousin takes a lean and hungry view. His playing has a fine sense of the workís linearity and he is loath to sacrifice its structure to incidental felicities. His chordal playing springs out of the speakers, crisp, even, powerful without ever forcing tone. Then in the first movement he also captures a withdrawn bronzed tone that is equally admirable. His left hand is no mere accomplice too Ė he actively brings out shading throughout. In the slow movement I was reminded more than once of the Vocalise Ė as Cousinís evocative playing brings out lines and motifs with discretion and imagination. The finale has plenty of power and confidence; itís not a daredevil take on it, but thereís still a commanding control and not least a sensitive exploration of those little moments of lyric reprieve. I liked the way Cousin varied the tone colours in his chordal playing. Itís not the only way to approach the sonata but on its own terms itís an especially successful one.
 
The Op.10 Morceaux de Salon offer more microscopic pleasures than are on offer in the big sonata. Some will remember the Barcarolle and Humoresque from Horowitzís recordings though equally others will remember the composerís own recordings of these two pieces. We find that throughout Cousin strikes a good balance between aristocratic finesse and avuncular interjection. His Nocturne is nicely nuanced and whilst he lacks Rachmaninovís caprice and devilish rubati in the Barcarolle, he remains commendably straight without ever becoming dull. Similarly Cousinís Humoresque is soft-grained and pliable, good natured and drenched in sangfroid. By contrast the composer has a whiff of the sulphurous about him, with an acerbic tone and a fistful of grotesquerie. Composer-performers do tend to be sui generis.
 
The recording is a touch dry and that prevents a full blossoming of sound. But it doesnít limit oneís admiration for much of this recital.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

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