WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Preludes, Études-tableaux
PERFORMER: Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 446 220-2 DDD
Rachmaninov wrote his Second Piano Sonata in 1913, then felt guilty about its teeming extravagance and published a shorter, pruned version in 1931. In doing that, he went too far, and perhaps he shouldn’t have tinkered at all. The ideas need to expand in every way, and the revision seems to thwart their potential. Horowitz made his own compromise version, as does the 32-year-old Friedrich Höricke, although his performance of the first movement still comes out longer than Kocsis’s performance of the original.
Höricke is a real find – effortless, athletic, and coolly swaggering. He uses very little pedal, so textures are always transparent, and his stylish performances of Rachmaninov’s complete transcriptions are a wonderful coupling.
Kocsis needs no recommendation – he is one of the most phenomenally gifted pianists of our day – but it’s not easy to live with the hard and glittering sound he and Philips favour in nearly all his recordings. That said, he gives you the full splendour of Rachmaninov’s original version and a generous, well-chosen selection of Preludes, Études-tableaux and other pieces, wonderfully played, as a coupling.
Garth Hall is not quite in the same class. He plays the 1931 version of the Sonata well, but it doesn’t flow with the magnificence of Höricke or Kocsis. Hall’s programme is bold, unexpected and richly rewarding. If you think, with some justification, that Barber was just a Romantic softie, try his tough Sonata, written for Horowitz in 1949. The recording is decent but could have more presence. Adrian Jack