RACHMANINOV Piano Sonatas
For all their teeming surfaces, the Rachmaninov piano sonatas don’t have to be treated as virtuoso demonstration vehicles. Sane, dedicated, balanced playing such as that of Russian-born, London-based Rustem Hayroudinoff is always welcome, as is the clarity he brings to every texture. His own booklet essay, of which an expanded version is available online, testifies to the thought that has gone into his recordings, and his technical mastery is never in question.
What is more debatable is whether the emotional contrasts he generates are sufficient to support the grandeur of Rachmaninov’s conceptions. There are undoubtedly verve and poetry here but I’m not sure they amount to communicative urgency or encompass such heightened states as desperation and craziness. It’s partly a question of tone-colour, which in turn may be to do with the choice of instrument. Haroudinoff’s voicing of the texture is always intelligent but it is never truly orchestral in its range. Everything gives the impression of being slightly muted: euphonious, to be sure, and never harsh, but at the same time slightly watercolour ish.
Like many others, Hayroudinoff plays his own conflation of Rachmaninov’s original and revised versions of the Second Sonata. Gordon Fergus-Thompson favours the 1913 original. More decisive is the fact that his sound is more resonant and bell-like: admittedly sometimes to the point of astringency, but very much painted in oils. His temperament is that bit wilder, his rubato more daring and his rhetoric more imperious. All this combines to give the feeling that there is more at stake in the music and that its ultimate victories are more genuinely hard-won.
Hayroudinoff’s Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninov Lullaby is a lovely makeweight. And if you lean towards a civilised Rachmaninov and react badly to animal intensity, maybe you will take this disc more eagerly to your heart than I do.