RACHMANINOV: 24 Preludes = Dmitri Levkovich, p. – Piano Classics

RACHMANINOV: 24 Preludes = Prelude, Op. 3, No. 2; 10 Preludes, Op. 23; 13 Preludes, Op. 32 – Dmitri Levkovich, p. – Piano Classics PCL0089, 70:47 (6/30/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Ukrainian-Canadian pianist Dmitri Levkovich – a pupil of Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute – recorded the set of Rachmaninov Preludes 2-3 May 2014 at the Friedrich-Ebert-Hall, Hamburg, Germany. He applauds Rachmaninov as “a man who could express all richness of life through sound.” The 24 Preludes – which take their cue from the Chopin 1838 cycle – do not follow any particular sequence, as does Chopin who proceeds by the circle of fifths. Instead, Rachmaninov opts for small but integrated groups, given the dramatic explosion of the first in c-sharp minor (1892) and its absorption of Russian bells and the ubiquitous Dies Irae motif. The next three utilize a downward step impulse, to be succeeded by four preludes (1901) that rise upward. The two Largos, Op. 23, No. 1 and Op. 23, No. 10, mirror each other enharmonically, a pattern as close to Schubert as it is to Chopin. A similar enharmonic ploy operates at the conclusion of the Op. 32 set of 1910, ending in D-flat Major to parallel that in c-sharp minor.

Pianist Levkovich demonstrates his aptitude for lyric poetry as much for digital fireworks, having performed a stunning Maestoso in B-flat Major and then having proceeded to the martially contrapuntal d minor. Its middle section permits Levkovich his pearly legato amidst a flurry staccato runs. Poetic bells suffuse the D Major, with each repetition of the falling motif’s gathering more nostalgia. Levkovich takes the Alla Marcia g minor in sturdy, even breakneck, stentorian terms at the outside, then he opens a smoldering volcano of frothy dreams for the middle section. Levkovich addresses the E-flat Major as a handsome nocturne whose erotic pulse hearkens to much in Scriabin. The whirling filigree in the c minor no less reveals Levkovich’s deft pedal effects and their resultant colors, the whole indicative of the hues in the Second Piano Concerto. The Allegro vivace in A-flat Major summons aspects of Schumann, especially in its syncopes; and we might take this piece as an invitation to hear Levkovich in that composer’s Kreisleriana. The Presto in e-flat minor smacks of Chopin’s Etudes of Op. 25, and Levkovich certainly applies the Chopin sound here, concluding with an epilogue. The G-flat Major Largo receives a delicately elusive, mystical realization, mostly Chopin, part Debussy.

Rachmaninov maintained his dramatic juxtaposition of major and minor tonalities for his 13 Preludes, Op. 32. After a forceful opener in C Major, the B-flat Minor invokes a kind of staggered gallop, augmented by flurries in trills and double notes. For shimmering sonority, try Levkovich in the E Major Prelude, a martial etude in a grand style, redolent of both Liszt and the Rachmaninov’s own d minor Concerto. In girth, Rachmaninov’s e minor Prelude (Allegro con brio) rivals that of Chopin, but the mood could not differ more boldly. Set as a declamation and answer, the piece incorporates bells with aspects from Scarlatti and Liszt keyboard wizardry. Levkovich brings a dark introspection to the poetic middle section. The last pages blister the ear. The diaphanous G Major precedes the official 1910 date of publication. Has Levkovich been listening to Benno Moiseiwitsch? Levkovich enchants in much the same, ethereal fashion, all lilacs. More Mussorgsky than Rachmaninov, the laconic f minor shakes its fists at fate and diatonic harmony. The F Major Moderato offers another elusive affect, dance-like but demure. The brilliant etude, a Vivo in a minor, extends the compression of life’s occasionally turgid dramas. The A Major from Levkovich plays like a concerto cadenza, Allegro moderato, arched and declamatory. The aforementioned Moiseiwitsch correctly identified the massive b minor (Lento) Prelude with a painting by Rachmaninov;s preferred artist Arnold Boecklin, Die Heimkehr.  “It is the return,” admitted Rachmaninov in reply. Levkovich takes the opening motif more briskly than some, but the piece gains mass, exotic color, and potent drama as it evolves.

The final triptych applies the mercurial to Rachmaninov’s alchemical mix. The Allegretto in B Major has a bit of that Mendelssohn impishness he found consistently appealing. Like the G Major, the g-sharp minor predates 1910. Digital dexterity in runs, trills, and passing notes dominates the field while the pot boils with directed intensity. Finally, we have the Grave in D-flat Major, perhaps the prelude most akin to a Chopin ballade or an extended Schumann epilogue. The downward sequence of notes tolls most eloquently, embracing a series of histrionic arpeggios and repeated notes. This piece might become, under Levkovich, Rachmaninov’s answer to The Great Gate of Kiev.

—Gary Lemco

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