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Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Complete Works and Transcriptions for Violin and Piano
Annelle K. Gregory (violin)
Alexander Sinchuk (piano)
rec. Allegro Recordings, Burbank, California, 2016
BRIDGE 9481 [71:12]

You wait for ages, and then like bananas and buses, two excellent discs of Rachmaninoff transcriptions come along at the same time. Recently I enjoyed a disc of solo piano transcriptions of - mainly - Rachmaninov songs (review). Now I have been treated to the complete [?] solo works and transcriptions for violin and piano.

At just over seventy one minutes this is a generous, well played and fascinating programme. Violinist Annelle K. Gregory plays with technical ease and considerable style and is accompanied with sensitivity and skill by Alexander Sinchuk. Possibly, there were just a couple of occasions when I feel the piano might have stepped forward and dominated the music making. Logically, the programme is presented in the chronological order of the original work's composition. Of the twenty pieces just three are 'original' works for violin and piano and all of those three are early/student works. With the remaining seventeen pieces the bulk of the arranging duties are taken by the two most famous violinist/transcribers of the 20th Century; Fritz Kreisler with five transcriptions and Jascha Heifetz with six. The liner states that Heifetz made eight arrangements of Rachmaninoff's music and it seems from a little online research that the performers here have chosen Kreisler's version of Daisies and Mikhail Erdenko's take on the Prelude Op.32 No.5 - both of which Heifetz also arranged. I am being a bit picky, but it would seem there would be space on the disc to include both the Heifetz arrangements as well which would have made for a fascinating comparisons in the arranger's art.

The Bridge recording is very good with the violin 'forward' of the piano but not overwhelmingly so. Gregory has a slightly old-fashioned tone with a fast febrile vibrato supporting a warmly projected tone. I have to say I think this suits this repertoire to perfection, as does her discrete use of portamenti and a very fluid use of rubato which in its ebb and flow emphasises the song origins of several of the selections. This is very evident in famed Vocalise where Gregory plays with a very attractive essential simplicity which at the same time allows the music to breath very naturally around the phrase ends. Online there is a YouTube link of Heifetz playing his own version of this song too - here we are given the transcription by Mikhail Press by which I am not wholly convinced. Press alters the octave registrations for the various repeated sections which is fine as such but I am not so impressed by the octave doubling of the melody at its final climax. The idea that for a solo player writing a climactic passage in octave will somehow reinforce/make louder that climax is simply misguided.

Interesting to note that Kreisler seems to have focussed more on the lyrical pieces; the slow movement of the 2nd Concerto (renamed Preghiera here - played with a most affectingly hushed intensity by Gregory which then grows to a wonderfully impassioned climax) and 18th Variation from the Paganini Rhapsody being two cases in point. This is not to imply there is not a high technical/virtuosic element to playing these pieces as well as they are here but Heifetz seems more concerned - as is often the case in his overtly virtuosic transcriptions - to showcase the sheer difficulty of his arrangements. This can be heard from the very outset of the Etude-Tableaux Op.33 No.7 - Gregory really does make the best possible case for this transcription but I cannot help feeling that it is a transcription too far - especially when heard against Respighi's superb orchestral transcription which does expand the work beyond its two-handed origin. However, the Heifetz version of the Op.21 No.9 Melody is a lovely combination of intensely lyrical 'sul G' writing and fluttering filigree - indeed this transcription is one of the most wholly successful on the entire disc. By successful I mean resulting in a piece that somehow expands our appreciation of the original work and allows the listener to hear it in new ways - not as simply a display vehicle for the 'new' instrument.

So, overall a very enjoyable disc indeed and not just for aficionados of the composer or the art of the violin transcription. The more I listened to this disc the more impressed I have been by the stylishness and sensitivity of the playing of both performers but especially Gregory who clearly identifies and enjoys playing this music a great deal. A detailed and interesting note by James M. Keller compliments an excellent all-round production by Bridge.

A disc of uncomplicated pleasures.

Nick Barnard

Romance in A minor TNii/31 (1885?) [5:28]
Romance "It was April" TNii/50/1 (1891, transcr. Konstantin Mostras) [2:05]
Morceaux de Fantasie Op.3 No.5 "Serenade" (1895, transcr. Mikhail Press) [2:55]
Romance Op.4 No.4 "Oriental Romance" (1893) [4:05]
Deux Morceaux de Salon Op.6 No.1 "Romance" (1893) [4:44]
Deux Morceaux de Salon Op.6 No.2 "Hungarian Dance" (1893) [5:11]
Preghiera from Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor Op 18 - 2nd movement (1900, transcr. Fritz Kreisler) [5:50]
Romance Op.21 No.7 "Its peaceful here" (1902, transcr. Jascha Heifetz) [1:53]
Romance Op.21 No.9 "Melody" (1902, transcr. Heifetz) [2:53]
Piano Prelude Op.23 No.4 (1903, transcr. Mikhail Erdenko) [4:12]
Piano Prelude Op.23 No.5 (1903, transcr. Kreisler) [3:55]
Piano Prelude Op.23 No.9 (1903, transcr. Heifetz) [1:59]
Italian Polka TNii/21 (1906, transcr. Kreisler) [2:17]
Piano Prelude Op.32 No.5 (1910, transcr. Erdenko) [3:08]
Etude-Tableau Op.33 No.2 (1911, transcr. Heifetz) [2:27]
Etude-Tableau Op.33 No.7 (1911, transcr. Heifetz) [1:57]
Romance Op.34 No.14 "Vocalise" (1915, transcr. Press) [6:17]
Romance Op.38 No.3 "Daisies" (1916, transcr. Kreisler) [3:11]
Oriental Sketch TNii/19/2 (1916, transcr. Heifetz) [2:00]
18th Variation - Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op.43 (1934, transcr. Fritz Kreisler) [2:58]



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