Rachmaninoff: Preludes, Opp. 23 & 2/3; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Preludes, Opp. 23 & 2/3; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor
PERFORMER: Andrei Nikolsky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 27795 2
On the evidence of this disc, the death of Andrei Nikolsky at the age of 36 was a genuine loss to the musical world. You don’t, of course, have to be Russian to excel in this music, but it helps. It can’t be a coincidence that my favourite Rachmaninoff recordings are dominated by Ashkenazy, Richter, Moiseiwitsch, Horowitz, Berezovsky and Rachmaninoff himself (but not forgetting Ogdon, Janis, Cliburn and others). Like most pianists schooled in the Russian tradition, Nikolsky had a big virtuoso technique, an equally big reservoir of tone and an epic conception of musical drama. As both composer and player, Rachmaninoff had an exceptionally exacting sense of musical structure, and a directedness of utterance, so to speak, which at his best was positively mesmerising. Ogdon had it too, to a quite exceptional degree, combined with an almost symphonic concept of piano sound. Nikolsky was in the same line, and among the greatest features of his outstanding playing here is its combination of a big-boned structural awareness with an almost continuous suppleness of inflection which never yields to the kind of metrical squareness which is the Achilles’ heel of so many ‘big’ pianists. The playing is always on the move, but lacks quite the depth of tonal resource which comes through so powerfully in Ogdon’s playing, most notably in the B flat minor Sonata, and the intense dramatic tension and rhythmic ‘spring’ of Ashkenazy in the Preludes and the Corelli Variations. Nevertheless, this is a distinguished release, well worth hearing. Jeremy Siepmann