The two CDs are part of Divine Art’s ‘Russian Piano Music Series’, each volume of which encompasses selected piano pieces of one (except the first volume) Russian composer. Previous volumes include works by Shostakovich and Comrades (vol. 1), Rebikov (vol. 2), Glière (vol. 3), Lyapunov (vol. 4), and Arensky (vol. 5); the current ones of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev are volumes 6 and 7 respectively. Simply having a look at the scope they cover, one might immediately realize that the series aims at embracing a wide range of composers and repertoire that comprises not only of the popular but also the lesser-known. The great many première recordings in volume 2 released last year are cases in point.

Apart from the broad repertoire the series embraces, these two records are interesting in many ways. In the first place, that they are performed by a Russian pianist (another Sergei) somehow adds extra Russian taste to these two volumes. In addition, all tracks are live recordings made at British academic institutions – performances in these two releases are indeed excerpts of four different concerts given between 1999 and 2005. Lastly, the repertoire is devoted to composers and works that are of household popularity, particularly when comparing to that of the previous volumes.

Literality and fidelity of interpretation are salient features of pianist Sergei Dukachev’s playing throughout. A great number of variations from Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations , for instance, are rendered with a taut pace, not slack for an instant, thereby imbuing some of the textually polyphonic variations such as the first, the ninth, the eighteenth, as well as the main theme, with an exceptional Baroque charisma. It is this exactitude that allows Mr. Dukachev to bring to the surface plenty of onrushing excitement in the final section and rigorous structural coherence as a whole.

Mr. Dukachev’s trademark Russian pianistic technique – steely tone, masculine power, and glitzy virtuosity – gives some of the emotionally profound works such as Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 and Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata full of hot-blooded intensity that moves the audience to the edge of the chair. On the other hand, however, some of the exquisite and humorous miniatures come across as rather calculated and studied readings. The sly and humor in some of the Visions Fugitives , for example, are the elements that Mr. Dukachev compromises in favor of an intellectual directness. Nonetheless, the Russian pianist’s meticulous attention to the structural elements of the music – the contours of phrases, the architectural layout – conveys the three sonatas and particularly the Variations with a great sense of cogency.

The CD leaflets include brief information of the composers and compositions, as well as relatively lengthy background of the performer. It would have been more conducive if the leaflet can be more informative by encompassing a general historical narrative of Russian piano music and the linkage between composers of different volumes, if there is any.

Above all, the judiciously selected repertoire, together with Mr. Dukachev’s literal rendition and Russian interpretation make these two releases items that general music lovers may well wish to put on their CD shelves. For experienced and knowledgeable listeners, Mr. Dukachev’s performances of the Corelli Variation and Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata are readings that they can consider to add to their already abundant collection.

—Danny Kim-Nam Hui