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Serge RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.36 (1913 rev. 1931) [21:26]
Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.42 (1931) [17:45]
Moments Musicaux Op.16 (1896) [32:57]
Evelina Vorontsova (piano)
rec. 2-4 January 2013, former monastry ‘Het Cenakel’, Soesterberg, the Netherlands

Evelina Vorontsova is no newcomer to the piano music of Rachmaninov; it has been central to her life from a very young age. As a Russian, now living in the Netherlands, she has a natural affinity with the composer. Each of the works featured here has been a part of her performing repertoire for many years. The Corelli Variations she first played at the age of 16, and the Sonata she took to the Rachmaninov Competition in 1990, where she won the special prize for best performance of the Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux. Much thought has gone into the planning of this new release; it has been carefully choreographed to cover the full spectrum of the composer's creative life. The Op.16 is an early work, Op.36 is from the middle period, with Op.43 a late composition. There is also an underlying common denominator in that Rachmaninov revised each one at some time or another.

Playing the revised 1931 version, there's much passion and drama in the reading of the Second Sonata, which is muscular and big-boned. Verontsova's formidable technical virtuosity is always the servant of the music. She contours the ebb and flow of its rhapsodic narrative with musical intelligence and a sense of structure, commanding a wide dynamic range from thunderous fortissimos to whispering pianissimos. The second movement is shot through with some lovely lyrical moments, radiantly nuanced, offering something of a contrast to the intense and impassioned outer movements. The finale is dispatched with tremendous energy and panache.

Verontsova displays a wealth of imaginative insight and flair in the mercurial Corelli Variations. The theme is elegantly stated, and the twenty variations that follow are resourcefully characterized with so much to admire. I'm particularly enamoured by the rhythmic freedom she brings. Adept use of pedal ensures clarity of texture in Variation VII, and in Variation IX exquisite pedalling achieves an alluring luminous sonority. Variations XII and XIII are rhythmically buoyant and audacious, whilst Variation XV is dreamy and pensive.

The Six Moments Musicaux were written between October and December 1896 when Rachmaninov was in his early twenties. Youthful exuberance shines through, especially in nos. 2, 4 and 6. This is one of the finest recordings of the Op. 16 I've heard. Not only is that hearty exuberance and sense of abandon tangible, but there's reflective intimacy when called for, as in nos. 3 and 5. The last one has always been my favourite, and whilst Sviatoslav Richter is nonpareil in No. 6, the energy and passion Vorontsova brings to it is impressive on all counts.

The Steinway model D-274 has been well regulated, proffering a sumptuous tone, with richly modulated bass and crystalline top end. The acoustic of Het Cenakel is warm with just the right amount of resonance. Liner-notes are in English only, and give detailed background to the works performed. The artist's website offers good quality samples.

Stephen Greenbank


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