RACHMANINOFF: Etudes-Tableaux, Op.39; Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42 – Alexander Romanovsky, piano – Decca 4763334, 56:31 [Dist. by Universal Music Italia] ****:
Recorded at the TELDEX Studio in September 2008, the Italian subsidiary of Decca has released their second album featuring the Russian pianist Alexander Romanovsky. Hailed as “an extraordinary gifted young pianist” by Carlo Maria Giulini, it takes little effort from the listener of this new recording to fully apprehend the predictions left by the Italian Maestro.
As a fellow comrade to Rachmaninoff, Romanovsky’s choice of surveying the nine Etudes-Tableaux from the Op.39 may be, in part, patriotic in origin. His first disc captured him already in top form, with elegant romanticism in the works of Schumann and Brahms. In Rachmaninoff’s Etudes however, one uncovers not only Romanovsky’s intuitive talent in lyrical narration, as evident from the suggestions of “The Sea and the Seagulls” in the Lento Assai (No.2) or the “inspiration from the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” in the Allegro (No.6), but to this listener, Romanovsky also has a fluidity and probing technique into Rachmaninoff’s writing style for the piano that reminisced the old school of piano playing that has now rare. His Lento (No.7) and Allegro moderato (No.9), which were centered on inspirations from a ‘funeral march” and “oriental march,” were both overwhelming and filled with drama that can be compared to the classic performances of the late recordings of Sviatoslav Richter from April 1993 – equally daunting and meticulous, focused in tension and emotion. It would be hard to pinpoint any short-sightedness in Romanovsky’s performances here, aside from the occasional fluctuations in tempo and a certain discontinuity with carrying phrases forward.
Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli had its première in Canada, Montréal to be exact, performed by Rachmaninoff himself on October 12th 1931. As Simone Monge reminded, this Variation is built on a theme in which Arcangelo Corelli created for a Violin Sonata. This piece enables listener to explore that very “Slavic soul” in Romanovsky’s playing that the Providence Journal had earlier elucidated. The Corelli Variations open in the key of D Minor, a favorite key of Rachmaninoff’s, in the initial thirteen variations. It then switches to the distant key of D Flat Major, which is the key that centers both Variations 14 and 15. At this pivot point, the listener also senses a heightened emotional state that is reflected on Romanovsky’s interpretation. It is one that perhaps can be best appreciated, like a state of promise that hovers over a ground of despair. Such a vision can seem intuitive for some, but in reality it is no mere feat, as it reflects a pianist’s true intuition and full synthesis of this music. The remainder four variations return to the dark key of D minor. What is interesting in this young pianist’s reading of the Corelli Variations lies not with his solid technique or the multi-dimensional lyricism he could convince. These are nonetheless impressive. But the “gift” indigenous to Romanovsky is his talent with narration – that is, keeping the listener in tune with thematic material that is familiar in origins, but inspiring every time the motive is introduced.
With already a battery of successful accounts in the works of Brahms, Schumann and Rachmaninoff under his belt, it leaves one pondering what the next recording of Romanovsky will explore. Certainly more of the solo works from these composers will be welcoming, but it will equally be intriguing to hear how Romanovsky functions as a chamber musician. This is a pianist definitely recommended to watch.
— Patrick P.L. Lam