Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor; Variations on a Theme of Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor; Variations on a Theme of Chopin
PERFORMER: Boris Berezovsky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90890-2 DDD
Berezovsky’s immensely powerful and subtly nuanced playing is ideally suited to Rachmaninov’s D minor Piano Sonata, with its impressive mastery of form and abundance of interesting detail. His sensitive response to the first movement’s extreme changes of mood winningly captures the music’s sense of fantasy, while an appealing lyrical warmth in the slow movement culminates in a dazzling climax at the end of the finale.

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In the Variations on a Theme of Chopin the increased length of successive variations, which disguises a four-movement sonata structure, creates a marvellous sense of organic growth. Rachmaninov himself marked several variations and the final coda as optional, and Berezovsky’s omission of variations 12 & 14 and the coda helps to strengthen coherence in the ‘slow movement’ (variations 11-18) and so give greater emphasis to the triumphant major-mode version of the theme which dominates the final variation.

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By contrast, Howard Shelley’s inclusion of all the variations (Hyperion) produces a masterly performance which is very grand in conception. Nevertheless, this issue, which boasts excellently balanced piano sound, offers a fine example of Berezovsky’s spectacular and yet undemonstrative virtuosity. Nicholas Rast