Rachmaninov: Preludes Op. 3/2, Op. 23 & Op. 32

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Preludes Op. 3/2, Op. 23 & Op. 32
PERFORMER: Peter Donohoe (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 7 64787 2 DDD(2 discs)
Listeners are able to choose from a huge variety of differing approaches to the piano music of Rachmaninov. His own playing was rather Classical, cool, understated, but rich in imagery and mood. Peter Donohoe’s interpretations of the complete Preludes are completely different. This is large-scale, heavy, meaty playing, suggestive of epics rather than novellas – Tolstoy rather than Turgenev. But the question that validates any approach is: is it convincing? With Donohoe, the answer is, happily, a resounding ‘Yes’.

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The disc begins with a really outstanding performance of the C sharp minor Prelude (which became the bane of the composer’s life). The sheer emotional range is marvellous: the devastating opening notes, the lonely, distant echoing of the Dies irae theme and the exceptionally agitato middle section.

It’s very easy for Rachmaninov to start sounding ‘notey’, but although Donohoe’s playing is unashamedly virtuosic, the fast notes do not merely rattle but are always kept melodic (as in the C minor Prelude, Op. 23/7). There are moments when he might benefit from a little more lightness – the approaching Cossacks of the famous G minor (Op. 23/5) ambush us right at the beginning. But there is an inner conviction about the performances which is very rewarding to hear.

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The biggest surprise for me was to hear the applause at the end of each set – for the sound is so good, the audience so quiet and the playing so accurate that I had not guessed it was a live recording. Jessica Duchen