Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C, op.17 (1836-39) [31:08]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Etudes-Tableaux, op.39 (1916-17) [38:25]
Alexander Drozdov (piano)
rec. March 2010, Westvest 90 Church, Schiedam, Netherlands. DDD
QUINTONE 10008 [69:33]
This debut disc by Russian-born, Netherlands-based pianist Alexander Drozdov was originally released in late 2010 and recently re-launched. A quotation on Drozdov's website states baldly that he is "the most fascinating musical personality to appear on the piano planet since Nicholas Angelich. An authentic genius." Such hyperbole in promotional material seems to be as commonplace these days as its obverse, the cavalier critical dismissal by a cloth-eared reviewer. It is best laid to one side for a few years at least. Meanwhile, the listener can savour Drozdov's cogent, poetic and virtuosic readings of these magnificent works by Schumann and Rachmaninov which, when heard side by side, throw up some surprising similarities.
Schumann's Fantasie in C is one of his greatest works for piano, a scintillating sonata in all but name, and written with the noblest of motives: to raise money for a monument to Beethoven, eventually unveiled in Bonn before Queen Victoria in 1845. Written thus in Beethoven's memory and dedicated also to Liszt, the Fantasie promises much on paper and in terms of scale, virtuosity and emotional power leaves quite an impression. Drozdov is by all accounts a modest, unassuming person, and those traits come out in his pianism, which is sensitive and unpretentious. His phrasing in the Fantasie is captivating, recreating the exquisite structure of the work that not all pianists achieve.
It would be a cliché to cite Drozdov's 'Russian soul' as a key factor in his emphatic reading of the Rachmaninov. In the Etudes-Tableaux at least the composer is not especially Russian, and indeed some of the finest recordings of those works where he does seem steeped in nationalist spirit have been made by non-Russians. Nevertheless, Drozdov has clearly immersed himself in these immortal pieces over a long period, and he reaches down into their cryptic recesses with an impressive display of emotional balance and physical strength. Rachmaninov gives the pianist barely a fraction of a second to think anywhere in these nine miniature masterpieces, the drain both emotional and physical; there is nowhere to hide for those not in possession of a masterly technique, iron self-discipline and substantial emotional maturity. Drozdov is no Rachmaninov but if his aim is emulation, this debut performance is at least a good start in the right direction.
The accompanying booklet is demureness itself, with standard notes by Drozdov describing and linking the two works, and a short biographical note on the pianist. The booklet is housed safely in a sleeve under the front cover of the digipak case.  

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Modest and unassuming, sensitive, unpretentious and captivating.