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Rachmaninov suite CR183

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Suite No 1 in G minor, ‘Fantaisie-Tableaux’ Op 5 (1893)
Symphonic Dances Op 45 (1940)
Nikita Fitenko (piano), Katerina Zaitseva (piano)
rec. 2020, Dekelboum Concert Hall, Maryland, USA

These two famous, substantial, and quintessentially romantic works may already have generous representation in the catalogue from celebrity players, but the husband-and-wife US-based Russian team of Katerina Zaitseva and Nikita Fitenko immediately sweep aside thoughts of comparison through the sheer authority of their playing on this new recording.

Coming from the early and late periods of Rachmaninov’s compositional oeuvre, both works presented may be contrasted, but are nonetheless quintessentially romantic. Nostalgic lyricism and hints of the orchestra abound in terms of textural layout and colours. Indeed, the Symphonic Dances was conceived simultaneously as a work for orchestra as well as a work for two pianos, with Rachmaninov working on both versions of what was to be his final masterpiece simultaneously.

The remarkable synchronicity of the Zaitseva-Fitenko ensemble exudes state-of-the-art elegance, sensitive tonal variety, and refined care for changes in texture through both works. Pedalling is immaculate in performances that beguile, almost making the listener assume that there is but one piano playing, and one superhumanly charged performer at work. So often this repertoire can sound rather clumsy in live performances where instruments may not be quite matched or where the space between performers can lead to co-ordination that is rather less than synchronised. Even the much beloved old Ashkenazy-Previn performances from the 1970s (Decca Ovations 425 029-2) show some weaknesses in terms of co-ordination, with the first movement of the Symphonic Dances betraying the fact that there are two instruments at work rather than one. One could scarcely imagine more unified performances of these famous movements than what we are offered from Zaitseva and Fitenko. Additionally, they are supported by an acoustic that is exquisitely reverberant, yet clear. Warmth and bloom with plenty of clarity wins plaudits for the sound engineer, Antonino d’Urzo of Opusrite. Tonal matching between the instruments is almost too impressive to be true, and though it is unfair to compare this modern issue with the old Ashkenazy-Previn issue, there is no question that in this new release Classical Records have most certainly made a deep and significant impression.

Zaitseva and Fitenko are always controlled, poised, rhythmically disciplined, clear, and poetic in their intentions. If they do not quite the demonic transcendental virtuosity that is displayed in flashes of genius throughout the pianism of Marta Argerich and Alexandre Rubinovitch (Teldec 9031-74717-2), then that is not to criticise but rather to comment on their particular priorities. Ziatseva-Fitenko are refined, cultured and aristocratically persuasive in their interpretations, and these are performances that can be returned to repeatedly for reflection, consideration, and spiritual strength. In particular I savour the beguiling cascades of colouristic fantasy that permeate the outer movements of the first suite.

Murray McLachlan

Published: October 31, 2022

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