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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Études-Tableaux, op.33 (1911) [24:19]
Études-Tableaux, op.39 (1917) [37:15]
Zlata Chochieva (piano)
rec. 4-5 December 2015 Westvest Church, Schiedam, Netherlands

Zlata Chochieva has acquired some impressive admirers. Stephen Kovacevich calls her “one of the most interesting and unusual pianists today. She has superb technical abilities, but it is her personal intuition in the music she plays that is special. I would be interested to hear anything she does and that is rare.” She has won some enviably enthusiastic reviews for her two earlier CDs of the Piano Classics label, one critic stating that her Chopin studies disc went “straight into the premier league with Perahia and Pollini”. Her earlier Rachmaninov disc was much admired too, announcing for one critic “a natural Rachmaninov player”. A Muscovite and protégé of Mikhail Pletnev, she does indeed have a clear affinity with this composer.

Chochieva is technically immaculate – it is not for nothing that these demanding pieces are called ‘studies’ - but more importantly, she has the poetic sensibility and emotional projection for these evocative and varied pieces. She risks stasis in some of the slower ones such as the C minor Op.33 No.3. Certainly she adds forty seconds here to the timing of my touchstone version of the Études-Tableaux by Rustem Hayroudinoff on Chandos (review), but the result seems to me not so much enervating as questing. Is this a fully finished piece or a set of exploratory gestures towards a finished piece, she seems to ask? The Op.33 set opens with what in her hands is a particularly insouciant F minor study, not making too much of its preludial character, but the second, in C major, raises the temperature superbly. The E flat minor with its whirling semiquaver flourishes, from which it gets its ‘snowstorm’ nickname, is dazzling, while the following E flat major evokes the celebratory bell sounds with fine sonority, and her sound never hardens under ff pressure at the top of the keyboard.

The performances throughout the Op.39 set are, if anything, even more impressive. In the great appassionato of Op.39 No.5 in E flat minor Chochieva is as good as anyone I have heard, fully the Russian master of the keyboard in one of Rachmaninov’s most romantic outpourings, through which she traces the supremely eloquent melodic line in a compelling narrative.

The piano sound is excellent, rich-toned and set in a convincing acoustic, not too reverberant. There are helpful if brief notes, despite some slight muddle over the numbering in Op.33, a result of the curious publication history of that particular opus. Rachmaninov’s solo piano music is being very well served these days, and each new personality on the recording scene seems to bring something fresh and individual to this inexhaustible repertoire. Zlata Chonchieva is the most recent that I have encountered, and on this evidence could yet be seen as the most significant. Certainly we can hear what Kovacevich meant by her “personal intuition”, which is apparent throughout this disc.

Roy Westbrook



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