LABELS: RCA Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 Nos 2, 6 & 9; Piano Sonata No. 2 (revised version); Fugue in D minor; Suite for Orchestra in D minor – arr. piano; Preludes, Opp. 23/5 & 32/12
PERFORMER: Denis Matsuev (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: RCA Red Seal 88697155912
At least two outstanding recordings of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata have come my way in recent years (from Yevgeny Sudbin on BIS, and Simon TrpΩeski on EMI), so the prospect of a new version eclipsing my affections for either seemed pretty remote. Yet Denis Matsuev’s performance of the revised 1931 version, recorded on the composer’s own Steinway, is a formidable achievement, demonstrating breathtaking control of the complex polyphonic writing, while negotiating the ebb and flow of the musical argument with great purpose and direction. Whether I would recommend it over and above Sudbin and TrpΩeski is another matter, however. For all its technical brilliance, Matsuev’s huge sound, perhaps emphasised here by the slightly dry recording, can become a little wearing after a while. In the Finale for example TrpΩeski has a more varied tonal palette, and is careful not to overwhelm us at the outset, the final climax therefore sounding all the more exhilarating.Still Matsuev’s disc warrants a recommendation, not least for the strongly characterised performances of three Etudes-Tableaux and two Preludes, and in particular for the inclusion of two works composed in 1891 whose existence only came to light very recently. The more substantial of these is a piano transcription of a long-lost four‑movement Suite in D minor for orchestra in which Rachmaninov’s authorship is evident in the dramatic flourishes of the opening Allegro Even more remarkable, however, is the second discovery, a two-minute Fugue written as a technical exercise for his teacher Arensky, but breathing the young composer’s spirit.