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Sergei Vasilievich RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Olga Rusina Plays Rachmaninoff

Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor Op. 36 (1913) [23:34]
1) Allegro agitato [9:58]
2) Non allegro. Lento [7:34]
3) Allegro molto [5:57]
4) Élegie in E-flat minor Op. 3 No. 1 (1892) [6:27]
5) Polishynel in F-sharp minor Op. 3 No. 4 [3:59]
6) Prelude Op. 23 No. 6 in E-flat major (1903) [3:39]
7) Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G-sharp minor [3:12]
8) Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 in G-minor [4:41]
9) Étude-Tableaux Op. 33 No. 8 in G-minor (1911) [4:38]
10) Étude-Tableaux Op. 33 No. 7 in E-flat minor [2:12]
11) Étude-Tableaux Op. 39 No. 6 in A-minor [3:08]
12) Étude-Tableaux Op. 39 No. 1 in C-minor [3:33]
13) Polka (1911) [4:33]
Olga Rusina (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Wroclaw Philharmonic, July 2002; Witold Lutoslawski Polish Radio Concert Hall, Warsaw, July 2006
Text included
DUX 0565 [63:32]
Experience Classicsonline

Olga Rusina was born in Russia but has made her home in Poland. She is heard frequently on Polish radio and television and has had a number of prominent pupils, but few of her recordings have made it to Western Europe or America. She is especially connected with the music of Chopin but on this disc she plays all Rachmaninoff - mostly mature works with a couple of the very early pieces. It should be noted that there are several nomenclature problems on this disc and its accompanying text that I will point out as we come to them.

The earliest pieces here are two of the Morceaux de Fantasie Op. 3. The first section of the Élegie was too lugubrious for me, but Ms. Rusina contrasted it beautifully with the middle part and did some imaginative things with the reprise. She definitely has original ideas although she does not always seem to have enough power to carry them through. Polishynel would be translated as Pulchinello but is also rendered as Polichinelle. The approach here seemed too heroic for such a piece, although the last part was well done.

Much further on in the composerís output are the Preludes Opp. 23 and 32. The performance of Op. 23 #6 demonstrates the pianist's main features - very fine shading and an excellent sense of form contrasted with occasional lack of power and concentration. These same attributes are found in her reading of the famous Op. 23 #5 in addition to a good deal of eccentricity. However, some of the hesitation with which she approaches this work proves to be an advantage in the build-up to the end of the piece.

The études-tableaux are for some the corner-stone of Rachmaninoff's piano output. Here we have two from each set and they would provide a workout for any pianist - both technically and pictorially. Ms. Rusina does very well with the watery opening of Op.33 #8 and develops this into the story middle section with equal ease. The seventh étude-tableaux from Op.33 seems to be Ms. Rusina's favorite of the lot and she is in total accord with its emotional sensibility. From Op. 39 we have numbers 6 and 1. The sixth is the famous "Little Red Riding Hood" piece and the pianist gets a good deal of scariness out of it but as the piece proceeds on she gets too carried away and ends up as lost as the title character. She gets back her sense of control in Op. 39 #1. As the last piece on the disc we have a piece entitled merely "Polka". This is actually what we know as the "Polka de VR" and it receives only an average performance here.

As is well-known Rachmaninoff's ordinal version of the Sonata #2 lasted about 26 minutes. He later cut it down to about 18 and then after that Vladimir Horowitz produced a third version lying somewhere between the two in length, which was approved by the composer. On this disc the Sonata is described with the term "The secondo gording". This might imply the second version but actually seems to be the Horowitz version, more or less. Strangely, Ms. Rusina's performance of the Sonata shows a greater consistency overall and within the individual movements than her performances of many of the shorter pieces. Her playing of the first subject shows great understanding of the way the composer could combine emotion with polyphonic mastery. She plays well in the second section too although she fails to make enough of a contrast with the first. Her playing of the development is rather heavy going - well-played but not too interesting. In the slow movement, with its approach to variation technique, she produces a very effective combination of sadness and charm - almost reminiscent of Elgar. The last movement also shows overall command. The references to the first movement are very well-handled and Ms. Rusina alternated a rather martial tempo with more "typical" Rachmaninoff to produce a finely-fashioned end to the whole work.

Overall Ms. Rusina is rather an uneven performer. As said above she has an excellent sense of form and can almost effortlessly evoke the underlying moods of many of the works on this disc. On the other hand she sometimes loses sight of the "big picture" and causes what begins as a fine performance to deteriorate. Since all of these works have been recorded numerous times I can't recommend this disc as the only recording to have of them, but I would watch out for Ms. Rusina in future releases as I think she might have more to offer in other repertoire. As for the recording quality it is serviceable in both halls but not especially helpful to the pianist.

William Kreindler


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