RACHMANINOFF: 6 Preludes; Moments musicaux, Op. 16: Nos 3-4; Elegie, Op. 3/1; Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39: Nos 1,2,5,9 – Ketevan Kartvelishvili, piano – Blue Griffin BGR 613 (58:56) [Distr. by Albany] *****:
Having emigrated in 2009 from her native Tbilisi, Georgia, where she made a concert appearance with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra at age twelve, Ketevan Kartvelishvili brings with her a formidable technical facility. That same year, she joined the Alexander Toradze Piano Studio in South Bend, Indiana, where she remains active. She made a much-touted album, “The Chase,” for Blue Griffin in 2017, which I not yet auditioned. Kartvelishvili appeared in recital at Carnegie’s Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. It was in 1999 that she received a grant from pianist Elizabeth Leonskaja to expand her studies. Kartvelishvili gave a live performance for broadcast on WFMT, Chicago. This all-Rachmaninoff disc was produced October 4 and November 6, 2020 at the Blue Griffin Studio Ballroom during the Covid-19 epidemic. The artist plays a Steinway Model D, produced and engineered by Sergei Kvitko.
Kartvelishvili proves herself immediately a natural Rachmaninoff exponent on every level, digitally and temperamentally. Her playing has reached the level of fluid articulation that every lyric phrase and dramatic gesture emerges with direct and inflected energy, an authentic realization of the composer’s expressive life. It certainly invites an accusation of hubris to take on, first, the eternal – almost banal – explosiveness of the 1892 Prelude in C# Minor, which quite became at once the composer’s calling card and the bane of his existence. The sonic elegance and projected power of Kartvelishvili’s Russian bells emerge with that same authority we recognize from Richter and the composer himself. Power and controlled percussion mark her reading of the Etude-Tableau in D Major, Op. 39/9 that concludes the program. The mix of galloping, propulsive energy and diverse colors in shifting registers keeps the heart pulsating and the ears vibrating to Moscow bells, their peals long resonant after the disc ends.
From the same set of Op. 3 Morceaux de fantaisie, we hear the Elegie in E-flat Minor, rather Chopin by way of the Moscow Conservatory, infused with zal, or anguished nostalgia. Kartvelishvili deepens the Rachmaninoff ”hybrid gloom” with the Moment musical in B Minor, Op. 16/3, which blends a romantic reverie with a funereal ethos. By taking the repeat, Kartvelishvili creates a dark ballad in scope, comprised in its three sections of minor thirds, open fifths, and octaves, moving into bass, staccato figures and minor sixths. The No. 4 in E Minor fuses elements from Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude” and the dynamic demands of Robert Schumann, who wished impossibly quick tempos played ever faster. Over tumultuous bass figures, the two-note melody manages to cascade in ff and pp episodes, sometimes achieving a furious assault from our selected artist. That the melody suddenly jumps an octave seems as natural as climbing a crystal stair.
Shades of Sviatoslav Richter (Leonskaya’s mentor) color the explosive, declamatory Prelude in B-flat Major, Op. 23/2, a towering example of the Russian palette whose percussion, judiciously applied, makes poetry, not cacophony. A robust march, the G Minor Prelude, Op. 23/5 relents into an erotic tryst remembered in a lingering dream. The Prelude in C Minor, Op. 23/7 demands color control in quick, plastic figures, Allegro, whose metrics shift in subtle divisions of the bar, only to establish another funereal mood in bell tones and swirling figures that brusquely dissolve in force. Suddenly, the diaphanous figures of the 1910 G Major Prelude, Op. 32/5 transport us to a magical space, one realized by a colorist who might bear comparison with another classic Russian interpreter, Benno Moiseiwitsch. So, too, the ostinato ripples and nervous gestures of the G-sharp Minor Prelude, Op. 32/12, which cannot quite decide its emotional tenor, given its heated agitation and martial impulses, sometimes reminiscent of Mussorgsky.
The colossal nature of Kartvelishvili’s technique makes itself manifest in the four Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39, from which the No. 1 in C Minor asks Chopin to surpass himself in dexterity and stamina. As a study in the competition between duple and triple meters, the expansive No. 2 in A Minor no less demands something of the composer’s large hands in broad arpeggios, which will soon outline the ubiquitous note of mortality, in the Dies Irae in the bass. Marked Appassionato, the No. 5 in E-flat Minor might have been composed for the passionate temper of Kartvelishvili, given her rendition of grievous, tempestuous despair, the composer here competing with Liszt for glimpses of the abyss. Like the Faust-Symphonie and Rachmaninoff’s musical child of that symphonic work, his D Minor Piano Sonata, the music finds redemption in the last page, in the parallel major. Beyond the graduated percussion of the No. 9 in D, already cited, the music demonstrates Rachmaninoff’s hard-won control of polyphony, from long work at Chopin and Bach. The Russian temperament, aggressive, even bombastic, asserts itself in lush octaves and staccato figures. To control this obsessive beast without its having become punishing and monotonous in color requires no mean feat of pianistic orchestration. Highly recommended.