Russian Emigrés

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COMPOSERS: A Firsova,Corelli,E Firsova,Rachmaninov,Smirnov
LABELS: Vivat
ALBUM TITLE: Russian Emigrés
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No. 2; Corelli Variations; plus works by Smirnov, E Firsova and A Firsova
PERFORMER: Alissa Firsova (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VIVAT 109

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‘Russian emigrés’ is a rather misleading title, if snappier than its actual theme. The common link is in fact two works by Rachmaninov – as played by Alissa Firsova – which inspired her composing parents to create works also featured on this CD. Elena Firsova’s For Alissa, sounding like a curious cocktail of late Scriabin and Messiaen, was inspired by the Corelli Variations; while Dmitri Smirnov’s Blake Sonata, with its exciting second movement depiction of William Blake’s Tyger, was inspired by the tintinnabulation of Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata.

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Firsova plays Rachmaninov’s Sonata in its daunting original form (composed in 1913, well before he left Russia). Her precipitous account of its opening, though not quite matching Zoltán Kocsis’s manic performance (on Philips), is some distance from the ‘flexible, beautiful and expressive’ quality of Rachmaninov’s own playing (as Firsova cites in her booklet note). In any case, her articulation of the bell-like figuration is rather approximate. Too often she rushes at hurdles rather than taking them in her stride. The slow movement is more successful, suggesting an affinity with Ravel’s ‘La vallée des cloches’: even here, though, the music never really achieves a purposeful flow, let alone sings. It is, perhaps, an impossible work to get quite right (hence Rachmaninov’s decision to revise it), but Freddy Kempf on BIS comes close with his narrative sweep and remarkable technical mastery of its challenges. Firsova is more successful with the Corelli Variations, but again a more singing tone would be welcome, particularly in the Romantic ‘Intermezzo’. Daniel Jaffé