Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Your beauty is that of a flower Op.8 No.2 (1893) [2:39]
All was taken from me Op.26 No.2 (1906) [1:27]
Morning Op.4 No.2 (1891-3) [2:56]
A Dream Op.8 No.5 (1893) [2:49]
Do you remember that evening Op.posth (1893?) [2:38]
Oh I beg you, do not leave! Op.4 No.1 (1892) [1:37]
Dusk was falling Op. Posth (1891) [4:19]
Water Lily Op.8 No.1 (1893) [1:21]
Do not believe me, friend Op.14 No.7 (1896) [2:31]
Night is sorrowful Op.26 No.12 (1906) [2:51]
They replied Op.21 No.4 (1902) [2:52]
How peaceful Op.21 No.7 (1902) [3:00]
Summer nights Op.14 No.5 (1896) [2:17]
In the silence of the secret night Op.4 No.3 (1892) [3:48]
Spring torrents Op.14 No.11 (1896) [2:28]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L'Enfant prodigue – Prelude (1884) [3:23]
Nocturnes (1897-99) [27:46]
Alfonso Soldano (piano)
All arrangements by Alfonso Soldano
rec. March 2021, Lastchord Studio, Trani, Italy
DIVINE ART RECORDINGS DDA25215 [71:10]
The history of piano transcription has almost reflected the history of the piano itself. The sheer colouristic abilities of the piano and huge developments in piano technique allow for something over and above mere movement of notes from one instrument to another. As Alfonso Soldano says in his notes great pianist/composers from Liszt and Rachmaninov onwards have seen the value of recreating not just the notes of a work but also as much as possible of the idea of what lies behind those notes and their own experience of and reaction to the music. The very best transcriptions are works unto themselves; a heady and occasionally intoxicating mix of composer, performer and arranger. Closer to our time and apropos this disc are the recreations of Earl Wild (1915-2010) whose many transcriptions include thirteen of Rachmaninov's songs, magnificently re-imagined in terms of the piano.
Concentrating on the earlier songs and including two of the posthumous songs Soldano has chosen fifteen of Rachmaninov's seventy-plus songs, only four of which overlap with Wild's versions. They are not always the most familiar songs but the quality of Rachmaninov's writing makes any of his songs welcome. The opening transcription, the early Romance op.8 no.2 is representative here and is a much more complex arrangement than that of Rachmaninov's friend Alexander Siloti (1863-1945); like Wild Soldano is consciously creating fresh works, often moving away from Rachmaninov's own rich accompaniment, and occasionally even the melody, while maintaining his idiomatic harmony and inner voice writing, with many mini cadenzas and flourishes added – the last breath before diving into the passionate final outburst of Do you remember the evening? Is just one instance.
One of the most beautiful arrangements here is the relatively restrained Dusk is falling, poignantly simple when set against the climax-upon-climax overt passion of Do not believe me, friend. Another is the flowing and etude-like They replied, one of my personal favourites among the songs, with its repeated melodic motif, harmonised differently at each iteration. The success of transcription technique is clear in a song like How peaceful, more commonly known as How fair this spot, that can be given such entirely different treatments as those by Earl Wild, Vyacheslav Gryaznov, Isaak Mikhanovsky, Raymond Lewenthal and Soldano, all versions sitting on my shelves and all so effective and yet so personal (Steinway 30082 for Vyacheslav Gryaznov, Ivory Classics 74001 for Earl Wild, Naxos 8573468 for Isaak Mikhanovsky, Deutsche Grammophon 4779527 for Raymond Lewenthal). The accompaniment to the final song here, Spring torrents, is already something of an study for the pianist and Soldano, like Frederic Meinders on his amazing transcriptions disc from 1993 (Kam-CD9303) and Earl Wild before him, integrates the melody skilfully among the thundering torrents making for a very satisfying whole. These are such adept and warmly romantic transcriptions that I would wish that the sound was just a touch warmer and more open. The sound is good and there is plenty of clarity, I just want to luxuriate more in the monumental richness of Soldano's Steinway in this big, bold and adventurous playing.
Curiously I was less aware of this in the Debussy items so evidently it suits this soundworld better. Soldano plays first the Prélude to Debussy's early lyric scene L'Enfant prodigue that won him the Prix de Rome in 1884. I would not have necessarily guessed Debussy listening to this blind but Soldano makes a beautiful job of this charming pastoral sunrise. The same can be said of his larger undertaking, the three Nocturnes; mostly less complex than the transcription by Gustave Samazeuilh (1877-1967) in the outer movements, especially Sirènes, but remarkably effective. I love Nuages where he manages to create that hypnotic effect of clouds rolling endlessly across the sky, capturing a lot of the same atmosphere of Debussy's prélude La Cathédrale engloutie even if the inspiration is rather different in that instance. Fêtes is well served too and if I prefer Sandro Russo in Vladimir Leyetchkiss' transcription (Steinway 30105) for his tauter rhythmic control this is still a very good version. The least successful for me here is Sirènes but only because I feel it is a little too languid; at 12:28 it is slower than many orchestral versions – Boulez 9:40, Stokowski 10:18, Elder 10:59 for instance. It is not a problem of sustain, which Soldano manages expertly without resorting to endless tremolandi, but rather I find that some phrases such as the vocal line at 2:05 feel a little earthbound, losing the sense of the sirens song drifting across the shifting ocean waves. I can't fault the transcription however and as a whole this is a wonderful recital, loaded with colour, imagination and pianistic delight. Soldano has enriched the repertoire with these idiomatic transcriptions and I hope that pianists will take to these as they have taken to those of Earl Wild and others.