Rachmaninov

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas Nos 1 & 2
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Preludes, Op. 23 – Andante Cantabile; Alla Marcia; Andante
PERFORMER: Xiayin Wang (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10816

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It’s not too long since I praised Xiayin Wang’s previous Rachmaninov disc, and about the same time I was stirred to admiration by Nikolai Lugansky’s recording of the two Piano Sonatas, which I rated the best currently available. Now Wang has also taken a tilt at the Sonatas, and a very impressive disc it is. I would still rate Lugansky the currently-reigning champion in these works, but Wang runs him close in many spots, and her technique sounds flawless. In the tumultuous, Faust-inspired First Sonata – surely the most neglected of Rachmaninov’s supreme masterpieces – she takes a slow-burning approach to the first movement, eschewing much of Lugansky’s overt drama for a gradual build-up of power that is eventually shattering in its intensity; the central slow movement has a kind of disembodied lyricism, while her Mephistophelean finale has all the wild abandon one could desire.

While Lugansky elected to play a kind of composite version of the two versions of Sonata No. 2 (from 1913 and 1931), Xiayin Wang believes the compact later version is strong enough to be given to us straight: almost inevitably, in this context, it sounds a lesser work than Sonata No. 1, but a very effective foil and counterpart. And she finds room for three of the Op. 23 Preludes, too – beautifully played, and nicely rounding off a disc of marvellous appeal.

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Calum MacDonald