Grand Russian

Author: 
Jed Distler

Grand Russian

  • Sonata for Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Piano

The best performances of Tchaikovsky’s sometimes rambling and pianistically unwieldy G major Sonata project the music in symphonic terms, with straightforward tempos that make interpretative points through phrasing, colour and nuance. Albert Tiu gets extra mileage out of the first movement’s primarily chordal textures by making subtle variations in balance and emphasis when material is reiterated. That said, his forthright and honest performance doesn’t match the more fluid and transparent mastery of the old Sviatoslav Richter and Grigory Ginzburg recordings: an unfair observation, perhaps, but the comparisons speak for themselves.

Although Tiu’s sensitive and conscientious rendition of the second movement lacks Vassily Primakov’s dynamic scope and harmonic tension, he still imparts character and variety to the music’s varying moods, with an extra kick to the obsessive, Schumann-like dotted rhythms. By contrast, Tiu’s lackadaisical Scherzo barely suggests a true giocoso, and pales next to Joseph Moog’s faster and suppler traversal. He imparts plenty of energy and momentum throughout the finale, with little help from the sustain pedal, yet one misses Freddy Kempf’s precipitous and balletic audacity.

Tiu’s sonority and sense of line considerably open up for the Rachmaninov First Sonata’s mammoth of a first movement. You notice this about a minute and a half into the opening section’s first climax, where the right hand’s big chords and swirling left-hand figurations press ahead, yet still make room for the inner voices to soar. Moreover, the pianist confidently grasps the composer’s dauntingly full-bodied keyboard-writing without the slightest vagary of accommodation. He may not pin you to the wall with Alexis Weissenberg’s pulverisingly demonic authority, but who can? In the gorgeous Lento, though, Tiu works too hard emphasising local details and accents, which often throws the music’s carefully crafted melody/accompaniment perspective askew, together with his never really establishing a steady pulse at the outset. In this regard, I much prefer the shapelier simplicity and directness of Santiago Rodriguez’s recording (Élan). Despite his alluring moulding of lyrical passages, Tiu’s heavy and rhythmically square handling of the finale’s relentlessly churning triplet figurations grows tiresome over time, without the orchestral sweep and tonal richness that send me time and again to Sergio Fiorentino’s stunning recording. While Tiu unquestionably has the capacity for big piano-playing, he faces steep catalogue competition.

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