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Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Elégie - A Heart in Exile
Lucy Parham (piano)
Henry Goodman (narrator)
rec. 2017, Menuhin Hall, Surrey, England (piano), Air Edel Studios, London (narration)
DEUX-ELLES DXL1178 [2 CDs: 104.58]

This latest compilation from the enterprising Lucy Parham follows on from her release last year of ‘Rêverie’, an album devoted to the scandalous life and loves of Claude Debussy, featuring the actor Alex Jennings as narrator with Parham playing Debussy piano compositions. I voted this recording to be one of my six best albums of the year.

This time, the grey melancholy tones of the actor Henry Goodman can be heard reading Rachmaninoff’s own words quoted from his extensive letters and diaries.

Henry Goodman has appeared in numerous London, Broadway, RSC and National Theatre roles, his theatre appearances including an on-stage Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister. He has played many roles on TV, including Midsummer Murders and New Tricks, and in numerous films, including The Avengers and Captain America.
 
This programme commences with a conceit. Rachmaninov is imagined, soon after his death, considering his response to a message from the Russia, from the Union of Soviet Composers recognizing, at last, the importance of his music and his considerable contribution to Russian culture.

The narrative continues with details of his errant father’s spendthrift tendencies and the consequent loss of the family fortune, and the subsequent consolation of Sergei’s Grandmother’s farm, Borisivo and of the young Sergei’s love of canoeing on the river. At this point, in vivid evocative support, we hear the dulcet watery tones of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Op. 32 No. 5. Rachmaninoff’s erratic academic record is covered and his meeting with Tchaikovsky – plus the hypnosis that cured his ‘mental block’. The famous bells-influenced Prelude in C sharp minor is covered and how Rachmaninoff rued that it over-shadowed his recital programmes for the rest of his life. Conversely we hear after his description of his courtship of his beloved Natalia, the tenderly romantic Prelude in E flat Op 23 No. 6.

Of course, there is dramatic coverage of the onset of the Russian Revolution and how the Rachmaninoffs escaped Russia by sled into Sweden with very few possessions and their eventual life in America. There is no doubt that the composer felt negatively about the brashness of California, preferring to concentrate on people and things Russian there. His escape was his Swiss lakeside home, where at last he felt a creative urge, composing his Symphonic Dances and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and his Symphony No. 3 (an important work unmentioned by Parham in her otherwise very good notes for this album).

Coverage of his performing work as pianist (including his recordings) is included with emphasis on his love of and admiration of Chopin and Scriabin – with appropriate performance choices by Lucy Parham.

I must include reference to the friendship between Sergei Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler. One of the most memorable anecdotes on this album concerns one recital they gave together. At one point Kreisler, trying to recover their position from an intense episode of extemporization, suddenly whispered to Rachmaninoff, “Sergei, Sergei, where are we?” Rachmaninoff, continuing to look downward, unconcerned, at his keyboard, mumbled, “Carnegie Hall.”

It should be pointed out that, in the context of covering Rachmaninoff’s life, there is strong competition. For instance, there are Tony Palmer’s DVDs covering Rachmaninoff’s life and music, notably the excellent survey, Harvest of Sorrow with narration by Sir John Gielgud and another concentrating on Rachmaninoff’s letters, home movies and recordings.

This is nevertheless an altogether attractive compilation with Lucy Parham impeccably rendering favourite and lesser known Rachmaninoff piano pieces.

Ian Lace

Previous review: Roy Westbrook


Contents
CD1
Dear Sergei … [2.35]
Elégie Op. 3 No.1 [5.13]
3 Besides the fee … [3.09]
Polichinelle Op. 3 No. 4 [3.46]]
5 My father… [2.18]
Prelude in G Op. 32 No.5 [3.23]
7 It was during my final summer… [3.51]
Troika, ‘November’ [3.15]
9 I often think… [3.37]
10 Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No.2 [5.27] 11 That damn prelude … [5.21] 12 Prelude in E flat Op 23 No. 6 [3.37]
13 I must say… [4.11]
14 Etude Tableau in E flat Op. 33 No. 7 [2.06]
15 My experience with Anton ... [1.20]
16 Moment Musical No. 4 in E minor OP. 16 [3.02]

CD2

1 Practice… [1.36]
ChopinWaltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2 [3.44]
3 Chopin!… [1.38]
Scriabin – Etude in C sharp minor Op. 42 No. 5 [3.26]
5 War …… [2.21]
Moment Musical No. 3 in B minor Op. 16 [7.01]
7 When I left Russia… [2.18]
John Stafford Smith arr. Rachmaninoff The Star Spangled Banner [1.25]
9 I May live in America … [2.55]
10 Moment Musical No. 5 in D flat Op.16 [3.52]
11 In my own compositions … [2.27]
12 Liebeslied (Love’s sorrow) Kreisler/Rachmaninoff [5.18]
13 Yesterday I received a telegram ... [5.20]
14 Moment Musical No. 6 in C . Op. 16 [5.19]

 



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