Rachmaninov: Études-Tableaux, Opp 33 & 39

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Études-Tableaux, Opp 33 & 39
PERFORMER: Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano)

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Despite providing a few clues to his fellow composer Respighi, Rachmaninov remained rather reluctant to reveal any of the specific extra-musical ideas that might have inspired his two sets of Études-Tableaux.

Perhaps he believed that the music was sufficiently strong to stand on its own feet without the aid of such props. Yet in his informative booklet notes Rustem Hayroudinoff argues that to understand the composer’s intentions more precisely, the interpreter should try and decipher plausible poetic, visual or personal backgrounds to each piece.

For example, he suggests a Pushkin poem Winter Evening as a potential source of inspiration for Op. 33, No. 6, whilst the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf could be the basis for the frantic musical activity of Op. 39, No. 6.

Even if one prefers to discount such ideas, there’s little doubt that Hayroudinoff’s warmly recorded interpretations are not only brilliantly characterised and absolutely masterly in terms of technique, but also sufficiently varied in colour and timbre to enable him to extract the maximum degree of impact throughout each piece – an extra dimension that makes his performances sound even more vibrant and imaginative than those of Howard Shelley (Hyperion) and Vladimir Ovchinnikov (EMI), two of the undoubted front-runners in these works.

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The comparison is best drawn in the opening movement of Op 39, a menacing seascape supposedly inspired by a painting by Arnold Böcklin. Whereas Shelley is certainly mercurial in his execution and Ovchinnikov opts for a display of breathtaking technical virtuosity, Hayroudinoff encapsulates both attributes whilst conveying more vividly the increasing desperation that engulfs the music.