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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Grande Sonate in G major Op.37 (1878) [32:15]
Meditation in D major Op.72 No.5 (1893) [5:30]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Moments Musicaux Op.16 (1896, No.2 revised 1940) [30:08]
Barry Douglas (piano)
rec. 2019, Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School, UK
Tchaikovsky Plus One - Vol. 2
CHANDOS CHAN20121 [68:08]

Barry Douglas won the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. He established a major international career as a concert-pianist with many of his recordings having been acclaimed here.

This is the second disc in a Series of “Tchaikovsky Plus One”, the first of which received a favourable review by my colleague Robert Beattie. Here we have two reasonably well-known pieces which are not, perhaps, firmly established as favourites in the piano repertoire.
Grande Sonate in G major is interesting and has hovered on the edge of being an established work. The renown of Piano Concerto No.1, which remains by far Tchaikovsky’s most popular work for piano, has perhaps stood in its light. Barry Douglas clearly loves the piece. He made a recording of it thirty years ago for RCA and was treated to mixed responses at the time. He attacks the first movement, which has a familiar resonance, with great gusto and dexterity. A strong case is made for the piece through the following movements. Lovers of the piece will be aware of Richter (Melodiya/Regis) and Cherkassky (Ivory Classics and Nimbus). In late 2017 Philip R Buttall wrote very favourably of Nicola Meecham’s recording, in an all-Tchaikovsky programme on Somm.
I found the Grande Sonate very listenable but it, perhaps, lacks that stamp of individuality associated with the composer’s great works. It’s also worth noting that whilst his most well-known pieces could only be written by Tchaikovsky, in this context I kept thinking of Chopin. Tchaikovsky, who loved Mozart, originally admired Schumann but not the Polish Chopin. However Henry Laroche could write that by 1878 “Being elegiac by nature and tending to melancholy, in these 'serious' musical genres (as they are officially termed) Tchaikovsky has expressed a quite different kind of seriousness: a seriousness of reflection, a frequent sadness and yearning, very often an oppressive sense of spiritual pain, and this, so to speak, minor key part of his personality, which is akin to Chopin, is the one that has been grasped and appreciated most readily” . The work certainly does have an elegiac quality, reminding me too of Schubert’s late Klavierstucke D946 with its pervasive sadness. This is certainly a performance to return to. The Meditation in D major is quiet at its commencement but as David Nice comments in his fine notes “it blossoms unexpectedly to a tormented central climax”. It is fondly played.

The ”Plus One’ on this CD are the Moments Musicaux by Rachmaninov, written when he was 23. They were written about the same time as the First Symphony, the first performance under a reputedly intoxicated Glazunov was a complete disaster and plunged Rachmaninov into depression which he only came out of with the success of the glorious Second Piano Concerto. These Moments were, apparently influenced by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay”. Barry Douglas again plays with great feeling and deals with the challenges of the writing, with great aplomb. This is typical Rachmaninov and it makes for absorbing listening. The composer is gentle, where necessary, as in the third piece Andante Cantabile in B Minor before all guns blaze forth in the E Minor Presto. I found the Adagio Sostenuto in D flat major, very moving and absorbing. The Maestoso in C major reminded me of the Second Piano Concerto and made a fabulous ending.

This is a very fine recital of works that deserve greater recognition. They may not show all their qualities on first hearing but several listenings will be rewarded. The Chandos recording and annotations are superb.

David R Dunsmore

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