Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Complete Preludes
Prelude in C sharp minor (from Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3) [4:55]
Ten Preludes, Op. 23 [33:18]
Thirteen Preludes, Op. 32 [41:45]
Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano)
rec. 2003, St Pauls School, Barnes
CHANDOS CHAN10107 [79:58]

Complete Études-Tableaux
Études-Tableaux Op. 33 [23:56]
Études-Tableaux Op. 39 [38:09]
Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano)
rec. 2006, Henry Wood Hall, London
CHANDOS CHAN10391 [62:20]

Somehow we missed reviewing these releases from 2003 and 2006; but they are still in the catalogue and deserve to remain there. Classical collectors rarely need reminding that, despite the usual high quality of many issues these days, newer is not always better. Even so, it would be regrettable if those interested in Rachmaninov’s piano music and in high calibre pianism were left unaware of this pair of discs from Rustem Hayroudinoff, each of which was very well received at the time and secured various media “best of” nominations. The sound stands up well a decade or so on, but then Chandos has often excelled at capturing the power and colour of a modern Steinway grand. There are rather sketchy notes on the Preludes by cellist Alexander Ivashkin, with whom the painist recorded all the Rachmaninov cello and piano music for Chandos (CHAN10095). For the Études-Tableaux Hayroudinoff writes his own full and fascinating notes.

In the Preludes, Hayroudinoff often sounds like one of the heirs to the great Russian tradition, which as a Moscow-trained Russian he obviously is. A certain Olympian manner, a big sound with a strong left hand when required, technique to burn and a native grasp of the late romantic style are all there in abundance. The famous - or for the composer who tired of its popularity, infamous - C sharp minor prelude Op.3/2, is reminiscent of Van Cliburn’s celebrated recording in its cumulative power. Though it is not so reminiscent of the composer’s versions with their understandably impatient 3˝ minute timings – Hayroudinoff’s slow-burn approach needs nearly 5 minutes. Like almost everyone, he is a little slower too than the composer in the seven other preludes Rachmaninov recorded, (from Op. 23 Nos. 5 and10, and from Op.32 Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, and 12), but still reasonably close in timing, and above all, in interpretative spirit.

Of many fine moments in the Op. 23 set of Ten Preludes, the D minor Op.23 No. 3 with its Tempo di minuetto marking, the pianist’s insouciant way with the main idea is especially delightful. The following group of three of the most popular preludes have all the melting lyricism and, in the famous alla marcia of the G minor, driving rhythm, one could wish for. He is always attentive to the way Rachmaninov’s inner lyrical lines grow and glow as the music progresses, as in the meno mosso section of that same G minor prelude, and many other places besides. The Op. 32 set of preludes is even more impressive, certainly as music, and if possible even as playing. Though not designed as Chopin’s Preludes seem to have been to be heard as a set, one has no difficulty in listening right through these thirteen gems of Op. 32 when each is realized so completely as they are here.

The Études-Tableaux receive equally persuasive advocacy, and are perhaps even more central to the Rachmaninov discography, since they are rather less often recorded complete than the Preludes. Again Hayroudinoff is close to the composer’s own swift timings for numbers 2 and 7 from Op. 33, the only Études-Tableaux the composer set down. In the booklet note he quotes Sviatoslav Richter on Op. 39 No. 5, the great E flat minor piece marked appassionato; “Although I love listening to it I avoid playing such music as it makes me feel completely naked emotionally. But if you decide to perform it, be good enough to undress”. I have no information about Rustem Hayroudinoff ‘s attire or lack of it when he recorded this item, but I can say he is not afraid of that emotional nakedness. He sees the piece as he says as the “dramatic climax of the whole set”, and revels in its anguished intensity, its rich inner voices, and towering climaxes. This is an artist not merely interpreting the music, but identifying with it. Small wonder it has generally been seen as a benchmark recording of these studies and was selected as the finest version when BBC Radio 3 last assessed the work on its ‘Building a Library’ feature.

The Rachmaninov solo piano recording landscape is changing as ever, with at least one new series emerging covering all the solo works. Thus Odradek is releasing an intégrale with Artur Pizarro in 2-disc installments, the first of which made an auspicious launch, and the second of which is just out. Also Chandos has recently given us two very impressive Rachmaninov discs from Xaiyin Wang (though not announced as a series) (review ~ review). That’s what Chandos did with Hayroudinoff, and it is not clear why they did not continue with him, since he plays much Rachmaninov; and just view his Sonata No.1 on YouTube if you need persuading of his remarkable gifts. Chandos should now couple these two discs together in one budget offering, garner no doubt a fresh set of laudatory reviews, and invite Hayroudinoff to record a disc of the two Rachmaninov sonatas, the second in the original version, please.

The catalogue has many fine alternative versions of these pieces it is true, but very few are unequivocally better – in fact at present none are. There are some very worthwhile complete one-disc surveys of the Preludes and the Studies to be considered alongside this pair, such as Boris Berezovsky (Mirare 2005) and Steven Osborne (Hyperion 2009) in the Preludes, and Vladimir Ovchinnikov (EMI 1991) and Nicholas Angelich (Harmonia Mundi 1994) in the Études-Tableaux. Many other discs offer one complete opus number, or a selection of studies and preludes, rather than present each genre complete on one disc.

For now, I still commend these two Hayroudinoff discs for completeness, convenience and class. Ideally one could also add Richter’s Regis selection of studies and preludes from all four opus numbers. Then you have a titan of the great Russian piano tradition and one of his most impressive heirs.

Roy Westbrook

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