Rachmaninov Preludes Opp. 23 & 32
As the last significant piano compositions of the Romantic era, Rachmaninov’s Preludes are still underestimated. This double CD represents a powerful argument for them to be seen in the same tradition as Chopin’s Preludes, even if they don’t inhabit the same revelatory plane. Covering all the major and minor keys, they are a response to Chopin’s and, by implication, to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, though a complete cycle was not in Rachmaninov’s mind when he wrote the first – the C sharp minor Prelude – in 1892, at the tender age of 19. The next ten appeared in 1903, and the final 13 in 1910, but the cycle feels satisfyingly complete, with the lyrical quality of the first four contrasting with the virtuosity of the final group; the Op. 23 group has its own internal symmetry.
Rachmaninov’s celebrated dictum – ‘I try to make [my music] say simply and directly that which is in my heart’ – is perfectly exemplified in Guillaume Vincent’s playing, where virtuosity is never allowed to trump expressiveness. His is a cool artistry, sensitive to uncovering the poetry and capable of presenting the over-familiar in a completely new light. Rachmaninov himself grew sick of the C sharp minor Prelude, but he might have loved the subtle terracing of sound it receives here, and he might have been delighted with much else too. Vincent’s weighting and voicing of his chords is fastidiously refined, he brilliantly treats the fast pieces without a trace of hurry, and the lyrical pieces are rendered with lovely delicacy.