RACHMANINOV: Preghiera (arr. Kreisler); Trio elegiaque in D minor, Op. 9; Trio elegiaque in G minor – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Geidre Dirvanauskaite, cello/ Daniil Trifonov, piano – DGG 479 6979. 67:03  (2/24/17)  [Distr. By Universal] ****:

To celebrate his 70th birthday, violinist Gidon Kremer (rec. 1-3 May 2015) collaborates with members of his Kremerata Baltica in music by Rachmaninov, mainly those two trios that pay deep reverence to the spirit of Tchaikovsky.  The eponymous Preghiera refers to an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler in agreement with Sergei Rachmaninov—with  whom he recorded works by Grieg and Beethoven—of the Adagio sostenuto main theme from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Kreisler, of course, loved to show off his sweet cantabile: here, even beyond Trifonov’s own liquid legato and voluptuous arpeggios, repeated in mesmeric nocturne, Kremer sings through the range of his instrument.  By degrees, the passion between the two instruments builds, much in the manner of the Concerto, into a thunderous declaration of tormented ecstasy, only to diminish in those Wagnerian wisps we know from the Liebestod.

Portrait Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Upon learning of the death of Tchaikovsky on 25 October 1893, Rachmaninov isolated himself to compose his D minor Trio “to the memory of a great artist,” much as Tchaikovsky had expressed his own grief on the passing of Nicholas Rubinstein. Massive in scope and sculpted in shades of mourning, lamento, the work follows the Tchaikovsky Op. 50 design using a grandly mounted theme and variations in the second movement. From a plodding, opening Moderato, the music—by way of Trifonov’s stunning block chords—accelerates into a passionate Allegro vivace. Later, Trifonov’s dominant piano part erupts yet once more, quasi cadenza, after having already demonstrated by any number of moods and contrasting sentiments. A three-note, lilting theme haunts all three instruments as part of the development section. This relatively calm sequence explodes into a fevered march whose blistering piano runs seem to echo aspects of the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor Concerto. The funereal affect of the piece manages to recall the solemn moments from Chopin.

Tchaikovsky Portrait

Peter Tchaikovsky

The keyboard announces the extended theme—taken from the symphonic poem The Crag, Op. 7—for the Quasi variazione movement, whose proportions – in eight variations—becomes as massive and imposing as those in movement one. Trifonov holds us in thrall in the second variation, for piano solo. The remaining variations, quite differentiated in color and texture, nostalgic and scherzando, loom before us in a sweeping emotional panorama as broad as the first movement, so that the finale, opening in punishing Allegro risoluto – Moderato seems unable to bear the unequal weight distribution. After a fierce and competitive climax, the lamento of the first movement returns in chromatic descent for a cyclical conclusion, much in the Tchaikovsky spirit. The last page combines Kremer and cellist Dirvanauskaite for a most intimate recollection of times past.

The 1892 Trio elegiaque, Rachmaninov’s graduation piece, Tchaikovsky knew and admired. The work proffers a single movement of twelve minutes whose tenor seems entirely dependent upon Tchaikovsky’s Op. 50 Trio, but whose Lento lugubre and appassionata energies owe as much to Liszt. When Rachmaninov wishes, the textures can become gossamer and limpid, besides gloomily Russian. Beginning and ending with a funeral march, the work demonstrates both economy and fertile imagination, whose keyboard part signifies much of the rich virtuosity that lies in the composer’s future.  The sonic vitality of the recording recommends these performances to any connoisseur of Russian chamber music.

—Gary Lemco