Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Preludes Op 23 (1903):-
No. 1 in F sharp minor: Largo [3.44]
No. 2 in B flat major: Maestoso [2.58]
No. 3 in D minor: Tempo di minuetto [3.55]
No. 4 in D major: Andante cantabile [4.30]
No. 5 in G minor: Alla marcia [3.35]
Ho. 6 in E flat major: Andante [3.23]
No. 7 in C minor: Allegro [2.12]
No. 8 in A flat major: Allegro vivace [3.16]
No. 9 in E flat minor: Presto [1.36]
No. 10 in G flat major: Largo [3.36]
Prelude in F major Op 2 (1891) [3.30]
Canon in D minor (c.1890) [1.15]
Prelude in E flat minor (1887) [3.06]
Melodie in E major (1887) [3.15]
Gavotte in D major (1887) [3.26]
Prelude in D minor Op Posth (1917) [2.53]
Fragments Op Posth (1917) [2.15]
Lilacs Op 21 No. 5 (1913) [2.41]
Daisies Op 38 No. 3 (1922 rev 1940) [2.30]
Vocalise Op 14 (1912) arr. Bax [6.25]
Sorochintsy Fair: Hopak (1924) [1.46]
Liebesleid (1921) [4.33]
Liebesfreud (1925) [6.45]
Alessio Bax (piano)
rec. Wyastone Hall, Monmouthshire, 13-16 June 2010

Alessio Bax is a former winner of the Leeds and Hamamatsu International piano competitions. He has previously released 2 CDs of Baroque transcriptions (both of which are excellent) as well as some two-keyboard works recorded with his wife Lucille Chung. In this recital entitled ‘Preludes and Melodies’, he plays Rachmaninov’s complete preludes Op 23, a series of transcriptions (including Bax’s own transcription of ‘Vocalise’) and a miscellaneous selection of Rachmaninov’s lesser known works spanning the composer’s career.

Bax has a gorgeous singing tone which he deploys to considerable effect throughout this impressive recital, and his articulation is crystal clear. He begins his recital with Rachmaninov’s ten preludes from Op 23. He brings out the brooding melancholy and intensity of the opening F sharp minor prelude, and then unleashes a virtuoso firestorm for the mighty B flat which he plays with power, grandeur and rhythmic incisiveness. The full range of keyboard gymnastics are further on display with the whirling arpeggios of the C minor prelude and the treacherous and technically demanding double notes of the E flat minor which Bax plays very quickly and lightly. He captures the dance elements of the D minor prelude while he brings out the lyrical inner voices in the central section of the G minor. The D major prelude is luscious and dreamy and played with a romantic breadth and yearning, while the E flat prelude with the meandering left hand is wistful and delectable. The final G flat prelude is beautifully layered and the melody carefully shaped and crafted.

His miscellany of lesser known pieces is fascinating in providing an insight into the development of Rachmaninov as a composer. I hadn’t heard the three pieces from 1887 before but Bax makes a sterling advocate for these works. The E flat minor prelude with its repeated notes and sense of urgency has a haunting melody, while the melodie in E major is quintessential Rachmaninov with its opening Russian Spring song. The gavotte in D major sounds a technically demanding work and has an appealing melody and thrusting rhythms. The two late works from 1917 are introspective and one can hear Rachmaninov experimenting with harmony and dissonance. The prelude from Op 2 is stylishly played and is full of romantic longing.

The four transcriptions crown this glorious recital with Bax treating us to his own version of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’. In ‘Vocalise’ Bax artfully delineates the long arching melody and creates a pleasing feeling of space while using subtle rubato and pedalling to bring out the multi-faceted nuances of the piece. The transcription of Mussorgsky’s ‘Sorochintsy Fair’ is playful and has a sense of joie de vivre. The two Kreisler transcriptions which conclude the recital are breathtaking. ‘Liebesleid’ is full of bitter-sweet nostalgia while Bax seems to glide effortlessly over the fiendishly difficult passage work. ‘Liebesfreud’ is a technical tour de force with Bax bringing out the sway and swagger of the dance-like elements. The concluding pyrotechnics and cadenzas are dazzling and played with absolute technical perfection. Consummately wonderful playing.

I have two concluding pleas to Mr Bax: please record more of these fine CDs and can we hear more mainstream and concerto repertoire.

Robert Beattie

A glorious recital.