Romantic Sonatas: Grieg • Liszt • Rachmaninov
After Vladimir Horowitz’s 1982 barnstorming Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata on last month’s BBC Music Magazine cover disc, I was struck by the space and the sense Boris Giltburg finds in this titan. Admittedly he embraces the composer’s compact 1931 revision where Horowitz played a splashier composite version of that and the 1918 original. But this makes total, thematically interconnected sense. The passages of melancholy introspection bathe in a gentle air, and the climaxes – especially the bell ringing clamour at the heart of the first movement – never disappoint, though Giltburg’s is not an obvious bravura. I’d have liked a little more of the exuberant hoof-stampings in the finale, where Simon TrpΩeski’s EMI alternative – my top choice of the 1931 version for Radio 3’s Building a Library some years back – scores highest.
There’s no denying the fullness and resonant bass register of Giltburg’s pianism as recorded in Andrew Keener’s splendid production. Virtuosity never swamps clarity of argument, and the flyaway transcendentals gild especially the reprise in the opening Allegro moderato of Grieg’s early Sonata – a piece Giltburg tells us in his fine notes that his grandmother used to play. Its scherzo is a winner. The ultimate challenge of Liszt’s hell and heaven gets perhaps the finest performance of all, showing us the structure and effortlessly painting the poignancy and pride of redemption. With Giltburg, Yevgeny Sudbin and Denis Kozhukhin leading the way, we’re already in a new golden age of grand pianism, with hopefully many years of amazement ahead.