Divine Art is busy threading its way through the highways and byways of Russian Piano Music , having dealt already with names that mean nothing to me. I imagine, therefore, that the series might go on for ever, intriguing us certainly, and perhaps edifying us also. Volume 7 ( Prokofiev ) was issued after Volume 5 (Arensky), leaving a mysterious gap now to be filled by the pianist who could cram more notes into a split-second than anyone else, Sergei Rachmaninov . Dukachev shares with him both a first name and a comparably enviable technique .
Variations tend to multiply in direct inversion to the worth of their theme . Diabelli ‘s snippet of a waltz kept Beethoven going for thirty-three variations, Paganini ‘s brief flourish for violin inspired Brahms to twenty-eight, and La Folia (not really a ‘Theme of Corelli ‘) produced these twenty from Rachmaninov as his last work for solo piano . By contrast , the dear old ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’, traditional godfather to a grand tune whether he existed or not, induced Handel to only five. Rachmaninov characteristically lets rip with much whizz-bang pianism .
If it is only fair to the nerves of Rachmaninov himself to avoid the C sharp minor Prelude , that in G minor provides a very attractive alternative.
Rachmaninov produced most of his Russian works at his house on the Ivanovska estate, deep in the countryside far from Moscow , an oasis of calm . One of the last works written there were the Op 39 Etudes -Tableaux , more impressionistic than usual with Rachmaninov. Only No 9 in D major appears on this disc.
Ivanovska was subject to revolutionary looting, and Rachmaninov decided on departure from his native land. Sweden provided his first refuge, but the family settled in New York from November 1918. Because of an anti- Soviet article written in 1931 , Rachmaninov’s music was banned in Russia for two years . By that time he had established himself as a magnificent concert pianist in the States, and had revised as a splendid new war-horse the Second Piano Sonata of 1913. From the outset there is no compromise for the faint-hearted.