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Passions and Reflections
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 36 [20.45]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Douze Études Op. 25 [32.40]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut [5.20]
Ondine [3.52]
Reflets dans l'eau [4.44]
Clair de lune [5.42]
Kasparas Uinskas (Piano)
rec. 14-17 July 2014, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany
STONE RECORDS 5060192780536 [73.06]

I last heard the young Lithuanian pianist, Kasparas Uinskas, at a recital in the Wigmore Hall where he was playing the pieces on this recording together with Brahms' early Four Ballades. Following the recital Mr Uinskas' agent asked me to review his then forthcoming CD and I am pleased to see that the new recording, entitled Passions and Reflections, has finally been released.
 
The centrepiece of this CD is Chopin's second set of études which were composed between 1832-36. Some of the études (particularly G sharp minor and the two in A minor) are technically demanding works although the études are treasured as much for their musical content as for their technical innovations. Uinskas is one of the best exponents of Chopin I have heard among the younger generation of pianists. In his hands each of the études becomes a miniature tone poem: the lyricism, the wonderful harmonic progressions and the unique artistry of Chopin's writing are underscored in a completely fresh and innovative way while the technical difficulties are handled with consummate ease. There was a wonderful lyricism to the Aeolian Harp étude in which Uinskas created gorgeous melodies and counter-melodies against the rustling textures whilst allowing the beautiful modulations space to breathe. The F minor had artfully shaped lines while the F major had brilliance and buoyancy. There was tremendous agility and athleticism in the first of the A minor études with its difficult left hand leaps and Uinskas captured the impish, mercurial quality of the E minor to perfection. The double thirds of the G sharp minor étude glided along effortlessly while in the C sharp minor Uinskas presented us with a rapt and poetic musical narrative. The D flat major in double sixths was allowed to blossom into life and had a radiance and effervescence while the double octaves of the B minor were played with a Lisztian diabolism. The Winter Wind étude was a tumultuous swirling vortex while the final C minor had a symphonic breadth and richness of sound. This was really exceptional playing which stands comparison with the best performances of the études.
 
The opening work on the recording was Rachmaninov's Second Piano Sonata which the composer wrote in 1913 and revised in 1931. Horowitz started a trend among pianists of trying to create an amalgam of the two versions which I think has ultimately proved to be unhelpful. In this recording Uinskas very sensibly sticks to the revised 1931 version and the CD booklet notes helpfully remind us that Rachmaninov included a terse note in the score of the later version stating: "The new version, revised and reduced by the author". The opening of the first movement had an explosive power and Uinskas captured the restless agitation of the music brilliantly. There was an impressive and imaginative range of textures and colours and Uinskas crystallised the melancholic heart of the music. The slow movement had a gorgeous tonal lustre and Uinskas allowed Rachmaninov’s beautiful melodies to sing out in an unashamedly Romantic way. The opening of the finale had enormous rhythmic propulsion before the music melted into the opulent second subject. Uinskas allowed the music to build to a powerful climax and the coda was a breathtaking virtuoso tour de force.

The final part of the recording is a selection of works by Debussy and here Uinskas gave us a flavour of some of his more subtle and evocative playing. There was superb control of touch, timbre and sonority in Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut from the composer's second book of Images. There was much to admire in Reflets dans l'eau with some elegant shaping of the ripples on the pond, glistening, seamless arpeggios and artful evocation of water droplets at the end of the piece. I wondered if Uinskas could have given us more finely shaded dynamics and created a more nuanced sense of ambience and atmosphere in the early section of the piece. In Ondine (from the second set of preludes) I was impressed with the way in which Uinskas was able to weave together the composer's disparate threads to create such an effective portrait of the alluring and capricious water nymph. I wondered if he might make even more of the extraordinary contrasts and sonorities in the piece. The final piece was Clair de lune and here this most famous of piano pieces was played with a gorgeous tonal sheen and without any hint of cliché.

Overall, this is a very fine recording and the performance of Chopin's second set of études is exceptional.

Robert Beattie




 



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