Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Complete Preludes
Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 in C sharp minor [4:59]
Preludes Op. 23 Nos. 1-10 (complete) [31:27]
Preludes Op. 32 Nos. 1-13 (complete) [41:00]
Boris Berezovsky (piano)
rec. 2004, Maison de la Culture, Grenoble, France.
MIRARE MIR004 [77:52]

There have been some very impressive Rachmaninov complete Preludes issues recently, not least from Arturo Pizarro on Odradek (volume 2 of his intended complete series). In considering that set, which occupies two discs, I looked back at some earlier fine one-disc surveys such as those of Steven Osborne (Hyperion 2009), or my personal favourite, Rustem Hayroudinoff (Chandos 2003). In the same class is this account from Boris Berezovsky on Mirare in a recording issued in 2005 and still available. For some reason, it tends to get overlooked in discussion of this admittedly much-recorded repertoire. Even in a list headed by Ashkenazy’s complete survey and Richter’s substantial selection, as well as many fine successors, there should be room for Berezovsky of all artists – a Muscovite and Gold medallist of the Tchaikovsky piano competition after all.

For one thing, his technique is transcendental, which it needs to be for much of this music, but Berezovsky’s skill is of that order which seems not only to rise to the challenges, but to make light of them. That is only the minimum requirement for a great set of the Preludes. One needs more than technique – as Horowitz told Perahia when the young man said he wanted “to be more than a virtuoso” - “Yes of course, but first you have to be a virtuoso.” There is no sense of strain here, but rather of exultation in difficulties almost cast aside, as in the popular Alla Marcia of Op.23 No.5, which receives a most exciting delineation of its martial progress.

The musicianship matches the technique, not least in the matter of architecture. Every piece is very well shaped by Berezovsky – these Preludes all have a clear beginning, middle and end (often in a variety of ABA patterns), but each one still has to be made to sound an inevitable and convincing whole, a miniature tale that holds us throughout. He is a buttonholing pianist in this music, such that it is not a great task to listen through all 24 items at a sitting.

In fact Berezovsky sets out his particular stall with the very first prelude, the one in C sharp minor from his Opus 3 publication Morceaux de Fantaisie, once so popular and ubiquitous, and now rather patronized by some commentators. Here it is handled as if it were as deep and moving as any of the others, and Berezovsky achieves this in part by his superb control of dynamics. Thus after the loud opening, there is a masterly decrescendo from 0:40, followed by exquisitely hushed playing until from 1:55 there is a gradual gain in pace and volume, eventually releasing a thunderous climax – but one which for once sounds achieved, rather than one which just arrives. This is in the league of Van Cliburn’s and the composer’s recordings of Op.3 No. 2.

With good sound and a helpful note, this version of what I think of as Rachmaninov’s gigantic miniatures certainly still deserves its place in the catalogue ten years after its release.

Roy Westbrook


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