Rachmaninov's Op 42 and Op 43 are both in variation form and well worth a
comparison. The Corelli Variations are not an original theme by Corelli
but an Iberian folk song. The theme itself is choice because it is memorable
but any set of variations has to be carefully planned to make a unified whole
or else we merely have a theme and, in this case, 22 miniature pieces based
on the same thematic material. You never get the time to settle into one
of these little pieces before the tempo and mood changes and you feel you
it is another piece. Somehow, the famous Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,
Op 43 works, as the variations are more extended than in the Corelli
Variations. The theme of the latter work is more robust and lends itself
more favourably to the variation form.
Mikhail Pletnev's strength is in the exquisite sounds that he produces from
Rachmaninov's own Steinway. His playing brings out the many nuances of the
thoughtful music but there was a lack of aggression and excitement in the
quicker music. Pletnev majors on the sentimental side of Rachmaninov, and
his tone is excellent, but it does not appeal to everyone and I am sure that
Rachmaninov did not arrange his variations to the best advantage and this
is why we see the changes in the Paganini Rhapsody. For example, the
last five variations in the latter piece are all quick and the Corelli
Variations would work better if collected into three groups: fast, slow,
fast. The flabby structure of this piece is Rachmaninov's fault.
The Beethoven works far better as a piece of music but there is a lack of
cohesion in the opening movement. Difficult to interpret it is, but I have
heard other performances that succeed. A basic pulse is missing here. Again,
to be fair, this is not one of Beethoven's best creations.
The slow movement, Andante espressivo, lacks insight. The pianist
has not planned it out to give a logical overall reading of this difficult
music to interpret. The quick finale displays some fine fingerwork but the
recording is somewhat cold and clinical for me and with a limited range of
The Mendelssohn is interesting. I did not detect much of a cantabile
tone in the Andante. The Presto agitato was well played but
the recorded sound had no real sparkle. The Rondo Capriccioso, Op 14
is a gorgeous piece but the performance missed the essential elegance and
charm; nor does it seem to hang together.
The Chopin does not work. The opening polonaise theme has a
rubato as if the pianist is not sure that he can play it at speed.
If you consult my reviews of Peter Katin's superlative Chopin discs, you
will see that I object to Chopin being played as frills and trifles and Pletnev
falls into this pit at times. Other times he pulls himself out and there
are some passages of glorious tone. At times he quietens the music down and
it gives the impression that he is tentative and not sure that he can play
it. I will agree that this is a false impression.
The disc ends with four Etudes Tableaux. In No 8 in G minor
Pletnev finally captures the spirit of Rachmaninov with telling effect ...
but I am now going to listen to Peter Katin play the Rachmaninov Preludes
Op 23 and Brendel play the Beethoven just to remind me of how
these composers should ideally be played.
Let me make it clear. Pletnev is a fine player when it comes to technique.
It is his lack of insight into each of the pieces which troubles me. In other
words all of the pieces must satisfactorily fuse together as to its constituent
parts to make a complete work. Sometimes this cannot be done because of the
weakness in the composition which I have already hinted at. To add to this,
the recorded sound on this CD, while precise and clear, is restricted in
range of tone.