Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Moments musicaux, Op. 16

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Ogam
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Moments musicaux, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Leonid Kuzmin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 488009-2 (distr. +33 1 58 18 35 20; www.ogamrecords.com)
Leonid Kuzmin, a Russian in his mid-thirties, is a formidable virtuoso: his new Rachmaninov CD makes that clear. For the final stretches of the Second Sonata, which demand tremendous power, speed and stamina, his fingers stay entirely unflustered. The same centred weightiness is evident in the famous C sharp minor Prelude, second of the five early Fantasy Pieces; he can also unfurl the traceries required elsewhere in the set, and in the Moments musicaux, with skill and delicacy.

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What he apparently lacks is any original imagination sparking those fingers. You don’t have to go back to Rachmaninov’s own readings of Op. 3 to hear what is missing, but when you do the difference is startling. Kuzmin plays Horowitz’s version of the Sonata; again, his inability to build excitement can be felt without recourse to either of Horowitz’s firecracker ‘live’ readings (1967 Sony or 1980 RCA), but comparisons certainly underline the point.

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My own preference is for the Sonata in its original (1913), uncut form. I don’t find it, as the Ogam booklet writer does, ‘overloaded and redundant’, and I still find Van Cliburn’s 1960 Moscow recording thrilling. The sound quality may be narrow, but the style – broad yet free of stale rhetoric – makes the whole work come alive. Max Loppert